Editorial 

Building up to 2010, and then…

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If the end of the monsoon and the reappearance of the sun didn’t signal spring was on its way, the recent appearance of job fair ads certainly did.

Job fairs are nothing new in Whistler; we have at least a couple every fall as businesses prepare for the busy winter season. But spring job fairs are a newer phenomenon, a sign of the times.

By now everyone knows about the growing labour shortage that will be a factor, particularly for Western Canada, for several years to come. Some people recognize it as an important issue and are trying to be proactive; some people, holding the levers of power in Ottawa and trying to curry enough votes to form a majority government, seem to have other priorities.

The interesting thing about the recent job fair ads in Whistler is that the positions were all in the service industry. Nothing unusual in that, you say, service is the industry Whistler is in. But that may change the next few summers.

A cursory look at what must be accomplished by 2010 shows that construction is going to be a major part of our lives for the summers of 2007, 2008 and 2009. And the construction industry, which is busy across B.C. and Alberta, is facing the same labour shortage as the service industry. The difference is, construction generally pays higher wages than the service industry. And with Olympic deadlines to meet, the wages may be higher than ever, which is a daunting thought for local businesses in the service industry.

Some of the highlights of the 2007 construction season locally include the Olympic venues, which should be completed this year, the athletes’ village, the Rainbow resident housing subdivision, the highway upgrade, the First Nations cultural centre, the Green River subdivision and various renovations in the village, which may include the Royal Bank building, the Hearthstone and the Rainbow buildings. The municipality is also budgeting for its largest capital campaign in years, which will include the sewage treatment plant upgrade, completion of the library, expansion of municipal hall and village enhancement projects. The Lot1/9 redevelopment will likely begin in 2008.

In addition to these specific construction projects there will be ongoing construction-related campaigns over the next few years that will include things like improving access for disabled visitors and installation of security measures.

The timing of much of this work has been triggered by the Olympics, even if some of the work is not actually for the Olympics. Renovations to village buildings nearly 30 years old are a welcome byproduct of the Games. And they come at a time when some of Whistler’s long-time rivals are being revitalized (Vail’s village is undergoing more than $1 billion in redevelopment and Intrawest is building a new village at Snowmass) and newer rivals in B.C. are emerging.

The other side of imposing a deadline like 2010 is that there’s so much focus on getting ready for the Games there is less thought as to how we get there or where we’ll be after the Olympics. If we can just get through the next three years there will be lots of resident housing after 2010, the thinking goes. If the service industry can survive the next three summers the construction frenzy will have passed and there should be more people willing to work in the shops, restaurants and hotels.

But what will the summer of 2010 look like? There won’t be as much construction, which means there won’t be as many people around making construction-industry wages. There will also be less government money for capital projects.

Hypothetically, because the local construction industry will have drawn many male workers for three summers, there could be more women running the service industry businesses that are part of Whistler’s long-term future.

And a new generation of business owners will likely have emerged by then, as many of the people who got their start in Whistler in the ’80s decided the Olympics were a good time to sell and move on to other projects. Or perhaps they just grew tired of trying to find workers.

There will be more “affordable” resident housing by 2010 but not everyone looking for housing will have waited until then. Squamish is becoming more and more attractive as real estate development continues and highway access improves. Resort development elsewhere in B.C. will also continue to draw people.

First Nations will be more involved in the Whistler economy, and in the economy of the whole corridor, by 2010. Indeed, the Squamish and Lil’wat may be the largest players in the local construction industry in a few years time.

So take note of Whistler this summer. It may be quite a different place three summers hence.

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