Since the closure of Woodfibre mill in 2006 many in Squamish have bemoaned the loss of industrial tax revenues and well-paying jobs. With eyes firmly planted in the past resource-industry glory it is easy to miss the fundamental economic shift taking place now and into the future.
Between 2001-06, our population growth was in sync with the provincial rate of 5-6 per cent. In the last eight years the population of Squamish has grown 14.6 per cent and well outpaced both the provincial and national rate of 7 per cent and 5.9 per cent respectively. The new arrivals have altered Squamish’s demographic profile, which is now one of the youngest in BC, with most babies born and consistently boasting higher income and educational levels than the average. It begs the question on what has caused this flurry of new residents as it surely cannot be the jobs offered by the heavy or resource-based industry.
Some answers maybe found in Dr. Greg Halseth’s (University of Northern BC and author of The Next Rural Economies) work on the shift to place-based economies, which require an understanding of the unique mix of assets and aspirations a place offers. Place-based development zeroes in the assets small communities have: lifestyle, sense of community, high quality of life, affordable housing and much more.
Well-known examples of emerging new economies like Boulder, Colorado and Coachella Valley in California not only feature these lifestyle assets but also actively combine it with support for a vibrant entrepreneurial eco system by fostering opportunities for innovation, business, education and collaboration. An economic impact study of Coachella Valley’s Innovation Hub has shown on average of 1,375 new jobs created, 47 new companies operating and $275 million in revenue per year!
Employment Projections to 2031 expect the highest (60% +) employment growth to come from high technology and public sector. Surfing this wave already Squamish has an emerging cluster of technology-oriented businesses, two universities and growing private healthcare sector. Unlike some who have argued that our existing economic profile and well-researched future opportunities can co-exist with Woodfibre LNG, I see a fundamental conflict with our emerging place-based economy founded on our attractiveness as a highly livable and healthy community with an exceptional lifestyle.
Woodfibre LNG’s 100 jobs (unlikely to be filled by the existing workforce) amount to less than 1 per cent of our entire current labour market and the proposed $2 million property tax about 4 per cent of our total annual revenues.
Surely it is unacceptable to most to potentially sacrifice our environment, health and safety for such a paltry sum never even mind damaging future economic prospects in our emerging industries?