Economy on MLA’s agenda

Following an infusion of projects in the area in the recent past, jobs will remain the province’s focus for Vernon-Monashee in 2014.

Following an infusion of projects in the area in the recent past, jobs and the economy will remain the province’s focus for Vernon-Monashee in 2014.

“It’s been a great year, we’ve seen a lot of things happen here,” said MLA Eric Foster.

The announcement to complete the top two floors at Vernon Jubilee Hospital is one major project still to be completed – Interior Health is currently in the final stages of selecting a contractor to complete the floors for an anticipated 2015 opening.

“I’ll be glad to see that one up and running,” said Foster.

“We’re seeing overcrowding in the hospital and hopefully this will alleviate that.”

Over in his own hometown, more residential care patients are able to stay in town and additional jobs were created through Monashee Mews in Lumby this past year.

“It’s certainly been an asset for the community. It keeps the jobs local so people aren’t looking to move out.”

Realignment of Highway 6 is another asset to the area, creating a safer route for commercial, transport and residential motorists.

Foster also applauds the proposed pellet plant in Lavington along with the resurrection of the railway by CN.

“They’re making a big investment so they’re in there for the long haul,” said Foster, noting all the work the company has done to replace railway ties and improve the track in the North Okanagan and beyond.

So moving into 2014, Foster’s focus is on jobs and trying to encourage business to invest here.

Working with Kevin Poole, City of Vernon economic development manager, whom Foster says keeps his ear to the ground at all times on potential opportunities, one sector being eyed is the oil and gas industry.

“That’s who we’ve got to chase,” said Foster.

“We’re not going to get another glass plant.”

Foster points to operations such as Britco in Penticton and how Twin Anchors diversified its business by building camps in Sicamous as well as houseboats.

“That’s what we’re going to try and do here, identify opportunities like that to encourage companies to come here.

“We’ve got a workforce, we’ve got the best place in the country to live, we’ve got the rail lines, we’ve got new highways east and south – we’ve got a lot to offer.”

The focus coincides with some concern within the community that a lot of people are forced to head north or east for work.

“Would they all like to be staying at home and working? Sure they would,” said Foster.

But having served his own time as a young adult working weeks away at a time, Foster says it’s not unusual in the area for those tempted by the big bucks elsewhere.

“It’s pretty tough to compete with that kind of money,” said Foster, noting that every garage in town is looking for mechanics but they can’t pay the big dollars that the northern companies do.

While some families have moved away and others are split between towns during the work week, the fact is that people still want to be here.

“What we’re seeing a lot more of is people working away but living here. And young people who moved away to work are now thinking about a family and moving back.”