Squamish 2035: We Will Continue to Attract the Youth and Youthful

Editor’s NOTE: Taken from the special print issue of the Squamish Reporter charting the town’s future, this article by Chris Pettingill  presents his vision on Society

chrisBy Chris Pettingill
Published: Feb 6, 2015

 

 

What will Squamish look like in 20 years?  I’m not sure that I’ll ever make a great fortune-teller, but nonetheless I’m going to take a stab at sharing my predictions.

Although there are exceptions, the whole world is slowly moving towards gender equality.  Women are still underpaid on average compared to men, but we know that women are increasingly control of spending decisions and they are overtaking men as the majority of students in post-secondary education.  Observing how many women in Squamish are already starting and running successful businesses, and also the level of participation in what are normally male-dominated adventure sports, I am confident that Squamish is ahead of these trends.  Compared to now, we can expect to see even more women running businesses, running our Boards, and running our council.

Our geographic location and resulting surroundings will continue to attract the young and youthful. Although on average Squamish’s population will remain younger than elsewhere, it will not remain as young as it is now.  We aren’t likely to completely escape the macro trends around aging.

The average income in Squamish will increase, yet affordability will become even more problematic than it is now.  Squamish is incredible which means those with money will want to live here and will continue to drive up prices.  This is something we will have to pay attention to, but I’m not quite sure how we’ll solve this issue.

Squamish’s economic future will include a diverse mix of retail and community service providers, tourism, and work-from-home freelancers and consultants.  Education and health-care service providers will also continue to be an important part of our mix.  People will need to go to Vancouver even less than they do now.

I think we’ll see many smaller, innovative companies and small-scale manufacturers and industry.  Despite our past, large-scale industry/manufacturing employers are not likely to return.  This has more to do with economics and technology than our growing green culture.

There are many other people in the world willing to work industrial/manufacturing jobs in unsafe conditions for much less money than Canadians.  It is very challenging for a large-scale manufacturer trying to complete in a consumer-driven, capitalist marketplace while also paying the high salaries desired by North Americans.

I’m not a big sci-fi fan, but the other challenge in terms of big-employment-industry is robots!  Technology, artificial intelligence, and automation is already developing at a breakneck pace, and constantly accelerating.  What used to be our work, machines can increasingly do faster, cheaper, and safer.

It may seem like this future prediction has taken a bit of a gloomy turn, but there’s a silver lining for Squamish in all of this.  When companies first start out, outsourcing to cheap foreign labour or machines usually doesn’t make sense.  When you’re small, it’s generally cheaper to employ actual (local) people.  Squamish has a very strong pioneering, adventuresome, and entrepreneurial spirit.  This spirit perfectly suits a community that wants to launch lots of new businesses and new ways of doing things.  Individually these businesses may only employ a few people each, but collectively they will employ many.  As long as we are careful to foster businesses in a wide variety of sectors, we will be much more resilient to economic shifts than if we relied on just one or two big employers or just one or two sectors.

Businesses requiring creativity, a lot of knowledge, and/or having an artisanal quality will be the ones that are most dependent on our local human labour force.  And, these are exactly the sorts of business that Squamish residents are eager to build and work in.

Although Squamish is perfect for a diversity of smaller upstart companies, it will require some effort on our part to make it happen.  If we don’t put in the effort to build the supportive ecosystem that these business will require, we run the risk of being little more than a nice bedroom community to Vancouver in 20 years.   When we look at our OCP update, and our employment lands strategy, will we be planning for lots of space for smaller-scale manufacturing, industry, and other sorts of business?  Will our taxation enable small growing companies to invest a lot in research and development?  Are we ready to take bold steps towards our future?  I’m choosing to believe that the answer to all of these questions is, “yes”!

So, what do you think?  Am I close to the mark or way off?  What’s your prediction for Squamish in 20 years?

                                                                                                                                                      Cover photo: Gary Brockeling/Tourism Squamish

Comments

  1. Rick says:

    It’s going to look like any other suburb of Vancouver. Traffic congestion, over priced real estate, high property tax, crime, too many people, more homeless but we will still have the Gondola. Most of our out door rec lands close to town (Cheekeye fan, Crumpet woods, Brome ridge, Water front, Meryle ring, will be developed into more over priced housing. Trying not to be negative but this is how a town grows.

  2. Eric Andersen says:

    I appreciate Chris’ honest appraisal and open-mindedness, and although I’m not sure what is meant exactly by “large-scale industry/ manufacturing” but I’d like observations on this statement:
    “Despite our past, large-scale industry/manufacturing employers are not likely to return. This has more to do with economics and technology than our growing green culture. There are many other people in the world willing to work industrial/manufacturing jobs in unsafe conditions for much less money than Canadians. It is very challenging for a large-scale manufacturer trying to complete in a consumer-driven, capitalist marketplace while also paying the high salaries desired by North Americans.”

    While this is no doubt true for many industries in many western countries (e.g., textlies), let’s make a list of large industry that has left Squamish and consider circumstances here: The (Nexen) chemical plant operations were relocated first to Bruderheim, Alberta and then to North Vancouver, where production continues full bore today. BC Rail shops were relocated to Prince George and North Vancouver. The Woodfibre mill was profitable in its last years — and was one of the most up to date as regards meeting environmental standards. It was closed in a deal between Western and Canfor, whereby Woodfibre chip supply was allocated to Port Mellon (and Woodfibre sacrificed, in this coastal chip supply shortage situation). Our slow-growing northern pulp product cannot be replaced by product from the tropics, due to superior fibre qualities for many end uses. Finally, the Interfor sawmill lost its Japanese customer base to HIGH-COST competitors in northern and central Europe — and then couldn’t get back into the American market due to lumber trade restrictions.

    Furtherm0re, the fact is that there have been SEVERAL bigger, industrial (or transportation/ logistics) companies that have expressed strong interest in the Squamish location for plant or facilities investment — including very recently.

    • Chris Pettingill says:

      Eric, when the Woodfibre mill shut down, it was apparently employing around 325 people. Years prior, during it’s peak, I understand it employed 750. WoodfibreLNG (using the same land area) is expected to employ 100 (according to WLNG’s own EA submission). I think this underscores what I was talking about. I’m not saying that there won’t be large manufacturers in terms of physical size or volume of production. However, I am pointing out that cheap foreign labour and more increasingly, machines, will reduce the employment levels compared to the past. The change has not been immediate, but the change is occurring, and I believe accelerating, corresponding to our advances in technology and globalization. I’ll also add that although I focused on industry in my column (because it’s a hot topic right now) those in “white collar” fields need to be ready for change too. Whether we like it or not, machines are increasingly able to perform those jobs as well. Any community that wants to be ready for the future needs to pay attention to these trends and focus on supporting the jobs that are further out of reach of outsourcing and machines. (Like smaller and earlier-stage manufacturing for example).

      I’m not surprised large industries are interested in building facilities in Squamish. The question is how many high-paying jobs will the provide per land area, compared to large industry of the past? There will be exceptions, but in general, it’s going to be many fewer than in our past (and fewer still as time and technology progress). As a community with the beauty around us, do we want to use our land for large building full of machines, or are we better to leave things natural, or encourage smaller manufacturers that aren’t ready/able to use machines or outsource, and provide much higher employment density?

  3. tjay says:

    Oh, so us ‘old’ bastards who built this town (play ground for you) are worth nothing aye ? pffffft !

  4. Chris Pettingill says:

    tjay: I suggested nothing of the sort. I have much respect for the pioneers that built this town. And, I did not pass a value judgment (for or against) the fact that technology and economics make big industrial employment less and less likely in the future. I was simply making an observation of these trends. I do see opportunity for Squamish in these trends, but this doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily bad that Squamish took advantage of large industrial employment when it could.

    Eric, when the Woodfibre mill shut down, it was apparently employing around 325 people. Years prior, during it’s peak, I understand it employed 750. WoodfibreLNG (using the same land area) is expected to employ 100 (according to WLNG’s own EA submission). I think this underscores what I was talking about. I’m not saying that there won’t be large manufacturers in terms of physical size or volume of production. However, I am pointing out that cheap foreign labour and more increasingly, machines, will reduce the employment levels compared to the past. The change has not been immediate, but the change is occurring, and I believe accelerating, corresponding to our advances in technology and globalization. I’ll also add that although I focused on industry in my column (because it’s a hot topic right now) those in “white collar” fields need to be ready for change too. Whether we like it or not, machines are increasingly able to perform those jobs as well. Any community that wants to be ready for the future needs to pay attention to these trends and focus on supporting the jobs that are further out of reach of outsourcing and machines. (Like smaller and earlier-stage manufacturing for example).

    • Eric Andersen says:

      Good points, Chris:
      “I am pointing out that cheap foreign labour and more increasingly, machines, will reduce the employment levels compared to the past.” An example of this is the processing (primary breakdown sawmilling) of low quality timber. We cannot compete with Chinese plants and labour rates for producing lumber for concrete forms. This is the potential end use today of much of our low grade hemlock and balsam timber in our area. For the forest management benefits of a balanced harvest (including poorer quality timber) and the forestry employment benefits (which are significant) it is best we allow the export of low grade timber in order to be able to deliver the better grades to domestic manufacturers for higher value products with which we can compete.

      “… those in ‘white collar’ fields need to be ready for change too” Very true! Look at what has happened to Telus, with enormous outsourcing of services to Asia – thousands of B.C. jobs lost.

    • Eric Andersen says:

      REGARDING: “As a community with the beauty around us, do we want to use our land for large building full of machines, or are we better to leave things natural, or encourage smaller manufacturers that aren’t ready/ able to use machines or outsource, and provide much higher employment density?”

      Let’s be careful here, in applying “employment density” in land use planning. We do not plan use of scarce agricultural land or tourist-commercial land (parks, scenic places) according to jobs density. Land for some industrial uses is also strategically valuable, scarce, and not replaceable. This is why many voices are calling for an industrial land reserve on the south coast of B.C., and why conversion of waterfront industrial land to other uses in Washington and Oregon has been made extremely difficult, by Smart Growth planning legislation in those states.

      Most of our Squamish industry (transportation, heavy industry – however we want to categorize it) has been located here because of our rare coastal seaport geography. These industries (port, processing) represent essential infrastructure for a regional or western Canada supply chain.

      “WoodfibreLNG (using the same land area) is expected to employ [only] 100.” Yes, and WLNG is essentially a shipping facility – part of a supply chain starting way up north. Our environmentally conscious society may not like this fossil fuel supply chain and wish it were phased out; but we should not judge a shipping facility in a rare location based on its employment density. The natural gas industry employs thousands in B.C. (and paid for most of our 2006-10 Sea to Sky tourist/ commuter highway upgrade).

      Squamish doesn’t pay its own way, and as a community is in various respects quite dependent on the provincial and federal taxpayer. So, should Squamish deny, for example, First Nations timber tenure owners at Port Douglas, Lillooet and Fort Nelson access to tidewater shipping or processing infrastructure here because that infrastructure does not represent land use with high jobs density?

      It’s certainly not a simple picture. We must make the best of our Squamish geography, recognizing also its handicaps and the fact that we share its with others far away who also depend on it and on us.