A Forward-Thinking Vision
District of Mission, B.C.
The district municipality of Mission, B.C. is situated in the Lower Mainland, on the banks of the Fraser River with proximity to both urban centres and the American border, making it perfect for business while its beautiful surroundings backing onto scenic mountains and lakes make it ideal for recreation or to call home.
We spoke with Economic Development Officer Stacey Crawford, Interim Chief Administrative Officer Glen Robertson and Mayor Randy Hawes to find out more about Mission’s progress and new initiatives.
Mission strives to be the most business-friendly city in Canada. It is admittedly an ambitious goal, but one thing that it ensures is that, regardless of the business coming to Mission, the red carpet is out. They want to be known for being easy to deal with. Mission has done a great deal of work to attract new businesses, and presently there is much interest.
After a thorough assessment, Council determined that the original plans for downtown revitalization were found to benefit some businesses at the expense of others. Mayor Hawes stated, “It is not the approach we wanted to take, so we are now looking at working with the downtown business association to implement new sidewalks and lighting, etc.”
In addition, the relatively new downtown incentive package has resulted in a very strong increase in the number of grants for storefront facade improvements. There are also a number of development projects sitting in the wings for downtown. Tax incentives related to the improvements should trigger more economic activity which will, in turn, produce more revenue.
In addition to the façade improvement grant, the tax exemption program is also significant. Mayor Hawes shared, “If I were a potential investor downtown, I would want to know that I could do big improvements to my building, and my value would be frozen for five years. I won’t see any new taxes due to my improvements, and then, after five years, it gradually steps down to where I don’t get the tax break anymore to a further period of five years. So, in the end, you get reduced taxes for almost ten years!”
Similar to other communities in the Fraser Valley, Mission has a growing homelessness problem and is developing a strategy called ‘Stone Soup’ to help address the issue. Mayor Hawes indicated that, “In all cities, there are homeless people and individuals dealing with addictions and mental health issues. We are developing very stringent policies to deal with that in a way that is humane, helpful and effective.”
Mission has decided that first, everybody must understand that this is not the city’s, the government’s or the police’s problem to solve. It is everybody’s problem. “We all have a part to play.” The ‘Stone Soup’ strategy is named after the very old tale of everybody bringing a little bit to the pot to make a soup big enough to feed everyone.
Negotiations are still ongoing to relocate the so-called ‘McBarge’, a floating McDonald’s restaurant built for Expo ’86, to the Mission Waterfront. Current owner and property developer Howard Meakin wants to refurbish the barge to an upscale restaurant and coffee shop, which could become the centrepiece of thewaterfront development.
Local fishing charter operators are excited about this prospect. “It brings people to the waterfront and tourism. It’s a beautiful site!” The 15,000 square foot barge and related development would be a tremendous economic generator for the waterfront.
In the meantime, the wheels of progress are moving forward with a new venture into the world of vehicle fuel cell technology. “I’m not sure there are a lot of tradespeople being turned out. Mechanics can’t fix them. So, we want to talk to the university about taking a look at some new courses that would feed trained people into that emerging industry,” said Mayor Hawes. There are already industries in Mission providing fuel cells for Ballard Power Systems, one of the pioneers in the fuel cell market.
The goal is to convince The University of the Fraser Valley to look at Mission as the site for training in that technology. “I think we have a winner here.” As the technology develops, mechanics will need and want this kind of training and Mission intends to be at the epicentre of its knowledge and training for this new revolution in technology.
A related project is the potential to relocate the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV). A three-way meeting is in the works between the District of Mission, UFV and the Mission Public School District to explore the potential of moving forward with a new university campus in the downtown core.
Development is happening in Cedar Valley, which used to be an area of poor drainage. Fifteen to twenty years ago, expensive sewers were brought in for health reasons, and now these lands are home to many subdivisions. Designed to protect fish, the provincial Streamside Protection Regulation program regulated development setbacks ranging from five to thirty metres from any creek or stream. Cedar Valley has a lot of ephemeral streams, the “streams that flow only during and immediately after precipitation”, which made this difficult. So, a more scientific regulation RAR (Riparian Area Regulation) was developed.
Mayor Hawes helped us understand that these regulations “look at the science of the stream. Firstly, what is the value of the stream? Secondly, what is planned near that stream? Is it an oil well or a house? All of these things now factor into how far away you should stay.” The effects of RAR will make a big difference in expediting development work in CedarValley.
The Silverdale area is also ripe for development. “There has been a tremendous amount of interest to purchase those lands encompassing almost 1,200 acres. We estimate, with full build-out, it will house 30,000 people. It is the biggest underdeveloped piece of real estate in the lower mainland that is ready for development. There is a tremendous amount of interest in it.”
Over the last two years there has been a considerable increase in the square footage of the commercial and retail sector and a more modest, but steady, growth in the industrial arm. “In our industrial park, for example, there is approximately 60,000 square feet of new space. Companies have moved into them, and they are pretty large employers in the manufacturing trade. We know that Vancouver is pricing itself off every market whether it is industrial, commercial or residential and we are positioning ourselves to take advantage of that.”
The mayor does not think that Mission will have any trouble attracting manufacturing from of Vancouver. Many companies want to expand, but don’t have the land, and the cost of expansion is prohibitive. The cost effectiveness makes Mission a viable option, but it is going to need more industrial land. The council sees this progressing in ten years, so a new official community plan is in the works with a substantial industrial portion.
Mission is in an ideal location for business. The city is conveniently located on a provincial highway next to the Fraser River with rail transportation and is only fifteen minutes from the U.S. border.Its liveability is a key element as well.
“When you talk to individuals who own small manufacturing plants, quite often the decision to move to a new location is contingent on what their spouse thinks of the liveability of the area.” Significant plans have been established to further enhance parks and recreation over the next four years.
“We have formed a deal and a really close partnership with the Kwantlen First Nation. Together, we are going to develop a pretty massive recreation area for families. It will be a big tourism generator.”
On the western shore of Stave Lake, 12,000 acres has been designated as a family-friendly recreational area. The area is referred to as Stave West and Tim Horton’s is looking at building a children’s camp there. The land will be used for mountain biking, ATV use, camping and fishing. It is the biggest recreation area east of Vancouver and is within an hour’s drive for the 2.5 million people of the lower mainland.