A Place to Grow

District of Maple Ridge

In 2009, the completion of the Pitt River and Golden Ears bridges brought a swell of anticipation to the city. Maple Ridge is now in the throes of a population explosion that will see the city double in size over the next ten to twenty years.

Poised for growth

Manager Strategic Economic Initiatives, Sandy Blue, spoke about why now is an exciting time to be a part of this municipality. “People are drawn to Maple Ridge for a wide variety of reasons. We have an exceptional quality of life, with a strong sense of community. Young families, especially, appreciate the affordability, access to recreation, and the mix of rural flavour and urban growth. The average age in our community is 38.7, below the average for Metro Vancouver. Spend a day in Maple Ridge, and you’ll end up spending the rest of your life here.”

Coming out of the 2008 recession, the municipality took a strategic approach to spur on investment and promote more opportunities for growth. Council first set out to determine whether or not the region’s long range goals were being achieved; in the areas that were lacking, it put incentives in place.

The Town Centre Investment Incentive Program was developed to help accelerate private investment in the downtown core. This program includes incentives for new commercial construction valued at over $1 million as well as commercial renovation and façade improvement incentives.

“In this small area of our financial district, at the close of our 2013, we had over seventy projects with $140 million of private investment,” explains Ms. Blue. “As well, there were five hundred major projects in other areas of the city. While the incentive did not apply to areas outside the Town Centre, developers saw the value in the affordable land, attractive lifestyle and future potential of the city. In this way, the program actually had a significant impact on the entire municipality.”

The commercial portion of the incentive program has been extended until the end of 2014. Council is also examining a study that looks at creating a commercial / industrial employment incentive to attract more commercial and industrial investment to the area which will result in the creation of even more high value local jobs.

“We are forecast to double in population and jobs, so the places to locate these jobs will be on commercial or industrial land, and we are only halfway to our growth. We see big things in our future, and council is reviewing how best to achieve their goals.”

Investment potential recognized

Maple Ridge was awarded with the distinction of being the 2010 – 2015 # 5 Top Canadian Investment City, and every year since 2009 when the list began – #2 Top B.C. Investment Town and the ‘place to live for lifestyle.’ These rankings are determined by the Real Estate Investment Network (REIN), whose report identifies towns, cities and regions which are expected to outperform other areas during the next five years.

One of the factors that REIN cited in its rankings is the recent opening of the Pitt River and Golden Ears Bridges, which greatly improves access between the North Fraser region and the rest of Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley and the U.S. border crossings. This investment of more than $1 billion worth of transportation infrastructure is already triggering unprecedented development in the region.

Creating an environment for local business to thrive

In order to spur on further growth, more people need to be working locally. An estimated two to three thousand more companies are needed, so Maple Ridge is doing what it can to attract and welcome them. Currently, the municipality has about 4,200 business licences, including 1,500 commercial / industrial licences and 1,500 home-based businesses.

Maple Ridge is looking to both attract new businesses to the region and to help grow the businesses that are currently located in the region. One of the more innovative strategies Maple Ridge is perusing is helping home based businesses grow into commercial spaces.

Maple Ridge worked with the provincial government to identify over seventy resources available to companies to help get them started. As a result of this collaboration, the businessSTART program was created as a way to let entrepreneurs know how to access those resources.

“We launched it in Small Business Week last year,” Ms. Blue explains. “The Minister of Small Business (Naomi Yamamoto) came out to announce the launch of the program, which began in January this year.”

There are free one-hour seminars each week showcasing the available resources. As well, presenters come to speak about a range of topics which include everything from social media to insurance, investment and cash flow. businessSTART has already had close to 200 participants, and many are coming back for additional sessions. The program has been acknowledged by the provincial government as well as other B.C. communities. In June, the businessSTART program won the coveted GOLD Hermes Creative award.

Invest North Fraser: The power of regional collaboration

Invest North Fraser is an economic development partnership between Maple Ridge, Mission and Pitt Meadow. “We have three communities working together to market our investment opportunities,” says Ms. Blue. “By working together, we’ve launched businessSTART, developed the True North Fraser ag-tourism brand, and formed an Education Task Force to look at post-secondary options for the North Fraser region. This type of collaboration is one of the reasons that Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows were named jointly as the top five investment city.”

The True North Fraser initiative is a great example of the benefits of this collaboration. The True North Fraser website was developed to connect residents and visitors with the resources to find fresh, local produce and outdoor recreation opportunities in all three communities. With support from the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training, this coordinated initiative of the agriculture and tourism sectors is a great way for companies and visitors alike to learn about numerous rural assets ranging from farm tours and heritage attractions to festivals, community events and chances to experience pristine wilderness in Maple Ridge, Mission and Pitt Meadows. Agri-tourism companies, attractions, markets and events can list at no charge on the site.

“True North Fraser helps existing companies connect with other companies like them, and together they can grow their businesses. From a tourism perspective, it helps people coming into the region looking for great local food, events or experiences. There is also a Google map that makes it easy to find their way.”

The Education Task Force is another great example of the benefits of regional collaboration. Education was identified in the B.C. Jobs Plan as a key economic sector. Given that the forecast doubling of population, the Education Task Force is looking at developing a model for multi-institutional post-secondary that brings together industry, business, education and government. In addition to members from all three North Fraser communities, the Task Force also includes senior government, education and industry sector groups from across the province who have together identified a number of desired outcomes.

The Education Task Force held an Education Forum in April with over one hundred people attending. The keynote speaker presented a number of successful multi-institutional post-secondary models which bring together post-secondary institutions and industry groups to help grow the local economy. Representatives from the B.C. Technology Industry Association (BCTIA), Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME), the health care industry and post-secondary institutions were also present.

The information from this Forum will form the basis of a provincial government-funded research project that will identify the best opportunities for post secondary and industry to work together and develop the local economy over the next ten to twenty years. “We will be looking to create a framework for people to understand how to come together to create what’s needed.”

“The forum was about business informing education, rather than education for the sake of it. We need to understand what it is that businesses are looking for in terms of labour market and talent attraction. The recommendations will include highest opportunities, partnerships, governance and funding models to achieve this innovative, collaborative vision for delivery of post secondary in the future. We will look at the impact of technology, where the students and faculty are coming from, and which programs are essential to ensure the long term sustainable growth in our economy.”

A growing recognition for excellence from the investment community

Maple Ridge is no stranger to awards. Two years ago, the Town Centre Investment Incentive Program was awarded for being the best economic development marketing program in the province. It has also been widely recognized for its collaboration in forming the North Fraser Economic Partnership. This has gained the attention of the provincial and federal governments and has also garnered attention from investors. A number of awards have been given based on sustainability in the three communities. Maple Ridge is aiming to be the most sustainable community in the world – economically, socially and environmentally.

As to what has been taking place in Maple Ridge, Ms. Blue shares that the municipality is about halfway to its forecast growth, and that it continues to collaborate to ensure that it is building in the best possible way. “The goal is for us to become a destination for companies and high value jobs. This will ensure jobs for our citizens; and when folks are working locally they avoid the time, hassle and expense of commuting which means they have more time to spend enjoying all the great things our community has to offer,” she says. “There is a lot of momentum and positive energy. There is evidence all around us of the momentum that’s building, and we want to encourage that to continue.”

June 19, 2018, 8:06 AM EDT

A Proactive Approach to Resolving a Longstanding Debate

About forty skilled Central and South American workers from Ecuador, Peru, Columbia and Costa Rica came to British Columbia, Canada as temporary foreign workers (TFWs) in 2006. This story incited Labourers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA) call for reforms to Canada’s TFW program (TFWP) and the International Mobility Program (IMP). LiUNA, a powerful voice within the construction industry with over half a million members – 110,000 of whom are in Canada – has been the only Canadian union to address the issue.