For communities to be healthy and well-functioning they must be balanced and here in the North Okanagan, as the population changes, we are in danger of becoming a very unbalanced community.
Consider this, stats from the Regional District show that more residents of the area are over 45 than under 45 with one in five residents seniors. By the year 2031 it is expected that this will jump to one in three. This has a tremendous implication for services such as education, housing, health care and employment. It also has a tremendous impact on the cultural and artistic life of everyone in this community.
Already we have seen a decline of 1,775 elementary and secondary students within the North Okanagan or 11.6 per cent loss of students over the last 10 years. Although this means a reduction in the demand for educational programs and institutions, it also means that the loss of children amounts to the loss of working-age families and their ongoing contribution to our society.
With the decrease of a younger population and the increase of the life span of seniors we must consider the equivalent rise of health care costs. The average B.C. cost of care in 2008 was $3.333 per person. For those over 80 the cost was $15,137, five times the average cost, and between 2001 and 2011 there was a 51 per cent increase in people aged 80 and up in the North Okanagan, with this number expected to increase.
To attract younger people and their families we have to change the way we do business and actively look at ways to entice younger newcomers to settle here and stay. The only way to make a decent living should not be for one of the parents to have to work in Alberta and be a part time father or mother or to work two or three poorly paid part-time jobs. It should not be so hard to find a full time job with decent wages and benefits. Bringing these opportunities to the North Okanagan is vital.
While we have several initiatives and organizations working specifically to develop business and industrial opportunities we do not seem to be making gigantic strides in this effort. One of the organizations working to increase jobs is Community Futures North Okanagan which identifies projects that will benefit the community and builds community partnerships to implement different initiatives. Vision North Okanagan is one of these initiatives begun in February 2009, and is a group of regional residents and professionals who have a passion for community economic development and has developed a strategic plan. Community Futures has also developed a web-based portal called Our Okanagan that allows businesses to link together to provide a valuable resource and promote business development.
The City of Vernon has an Economic Development department and is working to expand and retain businesses as well by providing a detailed analysis of the City of Vernon targeted towards investors and businesses looking to relocate or expand to the area, among other services. The City of Armstrong, City of Enderby, Village of Lumby, Township of Spallumcheen, and the District of Coldstream all utilize the Contract Planning Services of the North Okanagan Regional District for review and recommendations on applications.
So while we have resources in place to promote and assist industry and business to locate here we must do more. Some emerging industries have been identified that would do well in the Okanagan such as Advanced Technology, Film, Aviation, Manufacturing and we must do all we can to further their progress.
Amalgamation may be another option that draws business to this area. The patchwork quilt of municipalities and districts must be very confusing to potential new entrepreneurs and would save all of us a bundle in taxes. Let us not assume that the majority of residents are happy with the status quo; let’s hold a referendum on this matter to see what the majority determines. It can’t hurt and we need all the help we can get to produce an ideal location for potential businesses.
Pat Black writes about issues of relevance to seniors in the North Okanagan, appearing every other Sunday.