Opinion: The future looks brighter for northwest BC

It’s been challenging to be a participant in the region's economy over the last dozen years. In fact, I’ve sometimes struggled to explain to Lower Mainlanders just how bad it was


Five sawmills, two pulp mills and a very large chemical plant all shut down operations not far from my town of Terrace. Many other secondary businesses went by the wayside as a result. Older workers stayed home with few employment prospects and our young people left town in droves.

In fact, if it hadn’t been for the First Nations’ economic development organizations playing a significant role in our regional economy, things might have been a lot worse. The activities of those First Nations kept us afloat during a very rough economic patch.

Rio Tinto Alcan’s modernization project at Kitimat also helped the region bridge the hard times, with its hundreds of millions of dollars in upgrades and the promise of some good future jobs.

Today it’s a whole new picture, and one that’s a great deal brighter for this part of the province. After having been forced to seek work elsewhere, now kids are returning for local work and families are reuniting in the process. There’s a groundswell of new investment, to the extent that many now compare Terrace with the ever-growing Lower Mainland city of Surrey.

Terrace house prices have virtually doubled in just a few years, making housing harder to attain for lower wage earners, but providing a needed spark to new construction starts and renovations that are felt positively throughout the entire regional economy.

That’s what resource industry investments can do. Liquefied natural gas plants, pipeline construction proposals and the services that come along with them are changing the face of the Northwest, and communities and families are among the beneficiaries.

In Kitimat, it’s a similar story. There are some 1,900 people housed in a camp and another 400 on a cruise ship berthed nearby, all focused on the modernization project and related infrastructure.

This new influx of employees and contractors sends a message to the marketplace to beef up service jobs — and that touches virtually every part the region. New restaurants have opened, retailers, construction services and household businesses from mechanics to laundry services are flourishing.

And what’s good for resource communities like Terrace, Prince Rupert and Kitimat is also very good for Metro Vancouver. Think of the offices in Vancouver occupied by engineers, environmental consultants, bankers, lawyers and many others who benefit from the rural resources boom.

Then think about the money generated by all that activity — north and south — that helps pay the freight on social services like education and health care, programs that are expensive yet vital to British Columbians. Think of how those funds could help pay for improvements to mass transit in Vancouver, or additional policing or aging infrastructure.

The promising resource future we see in the Northwest is driven not just by new energy infrastructure; mining is another very bright spot on the horizon. As global markets improve, B.C.’s mining sector is said to be moving gradually out of its trough.

PricewaterhouseCoopers recently reported that while B.C. miners continue to face challenges, those challenges pale in comparison to the ones facing the global industry, which saw a punishing 2013. So as a region and as a province, we’re well positioned.

Consider the Northwest Transmission Line project, that finished construction in early June and that promises to provide reliable, clean power to potential industrial developments in our region. That’s three years of foresight and hard work, and we think it’s vital to B.C.’s natural-resources future and the mining sector in particular.

Has it been tough to be a Northwesterner in our region’s economy? For a few years, yes it has. But as I look ahead, it’s hard not to feel a sense of excitement at the prospects this area has to offer its citizens and our entire province.

Gerry Martin has been chairman of the BC Progress Board, a member of the premier’s technology council, a governor and chairman of the BC Chamber of Commerce. He is a on the board of advisers of ResourceWorks Society and lives in Terrace.

Article originally appeared in The Province newspaper 

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