Report indicates economic slowdown in Vernon

Vernon’s economy appears to be receding in comparison to other B.C. communities

Vernon’s economy appears to be receding in comparison to other B.C. communities.

A new Conference Board of Canada report looks at how mid-sized cities across the country are recovering from the recession, and it indicates that Vernon’s economy has contracted for five consecutive years.

“It’s consistent with the feeling many people have in the community,” said Mayor Rob Sawatzky. “It’s not what any of us want to hear and we need to work hard to make ourselves attractive to business.”

According to the Conference Board of Canada, Vernon’s total gross domestic product went from $2.1 million in 2005 to $1.5 million in 2012.

It also states Vernon’s total jobs declined from 31,300 in 2005 to 19,000 in 2012.

In comparison, the report says Prince George’s economy has grown by five per cent a year since 2010, while GDP has jumped an average of 6.2 per cent in Chilliwack. Kamloops has experienced employment growth as has Courtenay and Nanaimo.

Kevin Poole, Vernon’s economic development manager, questions the federal and provincial statistics the Conference Board has used, saying that the sample size for Vernon is fairly small.

“One of the key challenges we’ve had is that the survey size for the Canadian Labour Force Survey in our area is too small and has skewed our numbers to the point where in my opinion they are not usable.”

He also questions B.C. Stats labour force data.

“This states that almost 40 per cent of our population over 15 has left during this same period.  The data set is statistically impossible as it means we had minus 5,621 people under 15 years of age in 2007 and now have over 20,834 under 15 in order for it to correspond with the population projections.”

He also wonders if the report factors activity in Spallumcheen and Lumby.

“If you look at the industrial base, it’s in those communities.”

But Poole says the report is worth considering and alternatives for stimulating the economy must be considered given that Vernon is not dependent on natural resources like Prince George and Kamloops.

“There is an opportunity around technology and health and wellness because we’re a lifestyle community,” he said.

“We also want to support the manufacturing that is already here.”

Sawatzky says there is a need to provide the recreational and social amenities new residents and investors want.

“Does your community have parks and hospitals that make the community attractive,” he said.

“We have fallen behind other communities. We don’t have a twin-sheet arena and a track (there should be one by 2014).”

Sawatzky says that other focuses for investors are transportation networks, like airports, post-secondary education and Internet access.

In terms of taxes, Sawatzky says Vernon is competitive with other B.C. cities.

“We can’t give tax holidays as they can in the U.S. and that has caused all kinds of headaches in the U.S. (municipal bankruptcies).”

George Duffy, Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce manager, is not pleased with the results of the Conference Board report.

“It’s one of the reasons we’ve been advocating for the city to take on economic development,” he said. “We’ve also initiated relocation packages to help attract business here.”