Strength through Diversification

Chilliwack, British Columbia

The city’s established resources are many and include the continuously growing knowledge-based industries, forestry, food processing, and most importantly, agriculture, a sector that essentially defines Chilliwack’s identity.

An Agricultural Eden

Chilliwack rests on some of the most fertile farmland in Canada. A significant 64 percent of Chilliwack’s land usage is devoted to agriculture, accounting for six percent of the city’s GDP. With the largest dairy farm in Canada and over 900 farms devoted to the vegetable, poultry, berry and horticulture industries, agriculture is big business in Chilliwack – a substantial contributor to the local economy, generating over $252 million in annual gross revenues, half of which is attributed to dairy farming.

Speaking about Chilliwack’s Agricultural Area Plan, President of Chilliwack Economic Partners Corporation (CEPCO), John Jansen affirms that, “We have our own agricultural committee here that is composed of people in agriculture as well as from academic backgrounds. We’re trying to develop a real plan of action for agriculture, being aggressive in securing agriculture in our community, working with farmers in our community and encouraging them to expand.”

In British Columbia, from the Fraser Valley to Vancouver, agriculture is a huge commodity, emphasizes John. “Chilliwack will be our real focus for agriculture because it does feed the Valley… it’s the bread basket of our province. The fruit industry as well is playing a major role. They’re expanding, and that’s great to see.”

Substantial economic spin-offs from the agricultural sector such as chemicals, fertilizer, feed and machinery also contribute to agriculture being a major Chilliwack employer, with an estimated $34 million paid out in wages annually.

Community Planning

Chilliwack’s Official Community Plan (OCP), is currently in Phase II of a project whose objective is to realize projections for the next thirty years in terms of emerging trends, community need, changes and growth. The Plan is a community-based process that sets to establish development and growth in such areas as urban and rural planning, residential and economic development and service and recreation infrastructure.

“Obviously, a Plan has to incorporate all of these elements, the mix of residential, agricultural, industrial and commercial,” says John, “to ensure that there isn’t any conflict, that there is potential for growth in all areas.” He acknowledges that Chilliwack is a strong livable community and that, “Residential areas are well designed and planned, as well as our commercial and industrial areas. We want to keep that going.”

Business Friendly

Chilliwack Economic Partners Corporation, responsible for the city’s economic growth and marketing, works closely in alliance with the city of Chilliwack, the downtown Business Improvement Association (BIA), and Chamber of Commerce. This partnership’s mandate is in the monitoring of development primarily in areas of opportunity, for both new and existing businesses to the city. The BIA represents over 350 businesses in Chilliwack’s downtown, proposing initiatives to improve the downtown core through redevelopment.

John relates that much like other Business Improvement Associations across Canada, the Chilliwack BIA “really helps businesses look at how they can support each other and attract more clientele to their business. So that’s a good driving focus as well.”

In terms of improving Chilliwack’s downtown core, an incentive plan promotes a vision of how Chilliwack could look in the future. John relates that the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV), will be adding a satellite campus to the downtown which, he says, “Is really great because you do get that population that will be looking at stores, doing things and being active, as well as providing a real atmosphere of enjoyment… the downtown is really developing into a jewel for the community,” he says.

Chilliwack prides itself on being the most business friendly community in British Columbia. Business assistance is provided in a number of ways through lower land and housing costs, a low tax rate for industrial and commercial properties (one of the lowest in the province), low cost of living and quick turnaround time for permit applications. Additionally, Chilliwack’s Downtown Revitalization Tax Exemption “provides that when you do any improvement to a property, you don’t pay the increased taxes, the full amount, until ten years has expired,” John explains. Through this incentive people have the opportunity to bring their new project to fruition without a tax disincentive. “We have a very strong advantage,” adds John. “We are a strong active partner when business comes to the community.”

Canada Education Park

The Canada Education Park was officially launched in 2003, a project developed through the City of Chilliwack, CEPCO and Canada Lands Company, as well as additional partners. Situated on 136 acres, the University of the Fraser Valley is the major land owner with 83 acres; close to $100 million for buildings on the property came from the University alone. “They have the most advanced trade and technology in the school and I would almost say in the country,” adds John. “There’s a shortage of skills in the community and in Canada, and to be able to have a source of education for that, has been great for us… It’s mind boggling what they’re doing there.”

Other facilities in the Canada Education Park include: the RCMP Pacific Region Training Centre; the Justice Institute of B.C.; Canada Border Services Agency; First Nations training programs; and International Studies including trade and commerce.

As well, the Canada Education Park will accommodate the UFV B.C. School of Agriculture which is currently in the development stage and will feature horticulture and livestock production and test fields to grow crops. “It’s going to be a tremendous asset not only for our community, but for the province,” adds John. “We’ve got [great] support in that, so it’s coming together… the [Canada Education Park] has been a real asset for us.”

An Accommodating Infrastructure

With an annual growth rate of three percent, John notes that, “Our water system and utilities are designed to accommodate the growth that we’re expecting.” Chilliwack is twenty minutes from the U.S. border crossing, 90 minutes from Vancouver International Airport and has its own expanded Chilliwack Municipal airport.

Efficient highway systems (Chilliwack is located on the Trans Canada Highway) and rail transportation allow for accessible receiving and shipping of goods to major markets and suppliers, making Chilliwack an excellent transportation corridor.

The Great Outdoors

Tourism is a major economic contributor to the city, providing employment to 9 percent of the labour force, largely in the accommodation and hospitality sector. With a 61 percent average hotel occupancy annually, Chilliwack’s hotel revenue in 2012 was close to $7.5 million.

One key advantage to Chilliwack is its location as a stop point for those travelling from Vancouver to B.C.’s interior. Chilliwack’s appeal as both a day-trip and overnight destination is represented, partly, by Chilliwack’s over two million visitors annually. Tourists are coming to enjoy such attractions as Cultus Lake Provincial Park with its beaches, camping and golf courses and Chilliwack Lake Provincial Park, another popular summer destination.

Chilliwack’s diversified outdoor activities include white water rafting, kayaking, biking and hiking trails, all amid a backdrop of scenic mountains, lakes and rivers. These attract both nature enthusiasts and adventure seekers. But it is Chilliwack’s world class sport fishing that lures many international visitors, generating generous revenues for local accommodations, fishing charters, restaurants and shops.

Cultural Attractions

Chilliwack Cultural Centre is a $22 million attraction in downtown Chilliwack. It is a first rate facility that includes an art gallery and a 500 seat theatre with a diversified line up of events the year round.

Founded in 2008, Chilliwack’s Metropolitan Orchestra (CMO) allows many of the community’s finest musicians to perform orchestral repertoires, often with world class soloists. In conjunction with the CMO the Chilliwack Metropolitan Youth Orchestra provides young musicians in the community with orchestral training and guidance so that they too may one day share the stage with the Metropolitan Orchestra and fulfill their musical aspirations.

A detailed history of the Chilliwack area can be found at the Chilliwack Museum and Archives located at the old Chilliwack City Hall built in 1912. An array of objects and historical documents have been collected since 1958, showcasing Chilliwack’s rich past, including the history of the Stó:lō First Nation (the first settlers in the Fraser Valley), artefacts and other items dating back to the 1860s.

Tourism Chilliwack, established in 1998, and shares a similar business model to CEPCO. It is comprised of a board of directors who possess unique skill sets related to tourism attraction. “They do an outstanding job in terms of getting tourism to Chilliwack,” says John. “It’s a strong model.”

When asked about his vision of Chilliwack’s future, John relates that, “I feel we’re on the right path. Our downtown will be revitalized. We have great shopping and recreational opportunities… we have everything a community could want.”

April 23, 2018, 1:09 PM EDT