With a goal of stimulating and developing the local economy, the Pemberton Area Economic Development Collaborative has released its Regional Economic Development Strategy.
The plan was the culmination of two years of work funded by $100,000 from the B.C. Rural Dividend Program, according to Graham Turner, former member and one of the key stakeholders in putting the Collaborative together.
The plan lays out 36 priorities, split into three categories, ranging from “quick start priorities,” that are inexpensive and non-controversial to “complex priorities,” those that require significant funding, multiple stakeholders and have the potential to be controversial.
Turner believes the best part of the plan is that it’s “not just a report” that will be put on the shelf, but a “playbook” of actions to improve the area that has already been approved by all the communities and stakeholders involved.
“It’s kind of a big deal to get this many communities together and especially the different First Nations communities and the Village [of Pemberton] and SLRD [Squamish-Lillooet Regional District Area] and tourism all coming together,” said Turner.
“It’s difficult to have everyone come together with like-minded actions. I think the actions really speak loudly, those tangible actions that can kind of move into real actions in the future.
“I think that’s what there really is to celebrate. That all this work has been done and that we kind of have those building blocks to do some work into the future especially on the heels of COVID.”
That same theme of bringing people together is also the basis for the plan’s top priority, which is to “seek improved regional transportation” for the area.
According to the report, in both Pemberton and the SLRD’s Area C, an overwhelming majority of people commute via car (75 per cent in the Village and 87 per cent in Area C), while public transit represents the lowest-used mode of commuting in both.
So, the need is clear for a better regional transportation, according to Turner.
“I think one thing that keeps bubbling to the top for us is regional transportation. So that’s certainly in there as more of a complex strategy or action, is how do we move that along,” he said.
“Through [COVID-19], we have people hitchhiking to Whistler to go to a doctor’s appointment. There’s like two buses to get from Pemberton to Whistler, so if you don’t work at a bank from nine to five, or you send an elder down there to a doctor’s appointment, they have to wait around until 4:30 p.m. to get a bus home.”
According to the report, improving public transportation in the region will also “likely benefit other priorities such as access to affordable housing and developing Indigenous tourism across the region.”
To improve the transportation, the Collaborative plans to create a new committee that “supports the newly formed regional and local transportation partnership” between Pemberton, Lil’wat and the SLRD’s Area C, and lobbies for “improved regional transportation” by reaching out to, and working with, political leaders like the minister of transportation and infrastructure. Another one of the Collaborative’s top complex priorities involves improving housing affordability and availability to help keep up and support the area’s growing population. According to the report, from 2001 to 2016 Pemberton’s yearly population growth rate was 3.78 per cent, which is more than twice as high as the B.C. average.
Currently the total population of all the communities in the area (including Pemberton, Area C, the Lil’wat Nation, the N’Quatqua Band, the Samahquam First Nation, the Skatin First Nation and Xa’xtsa First Nation) is nearly 7,000 and is expected to rise to over 8,000 by 2030 and nearly 9,500 by 2040.
According to the report, having so many people moving to the area “raises the cost of housing through increased demand,” but also presents opportunities that come with the need for more housing like more jobs in the construction industry and more municipal revenue from property taxes.
Some small steps have already been taken towards addressing Pemberton’s housing needs with the approval of a new project between the Village and Sea to Sky Community Services (SSCS) to bring 61 new affordable housing units to Pemberton in the next few years.
On top of creating more jobs in the construction industry, creating more affordable housing helps build a stronger community, according to Jessie Abraham, director of housing for SSCS.
“The benefits of affordable housing, in general, [are that it] creates more inclusive and more resilient communities,” she said.
“As we know from the pandemic, those with lower incomes are more vulnerable and when long-term residents lose their housing, or run out of affordable options, they really get pushed out of the community and that fabric that makes the community so unique is lost.”
Find the full report at tourismpembertonbc.com/regionaleconomicdevelopmentstrategy.