Betting on Northern BC: Economic Diversification and Export Potential

December 14, 2022

The next decade will be a period of significant economic change across Northern British Columbia. A move toward environmental sustainability will disrupt the economies of countless communities currently dependent on local timber fibre extraction and processing as well as other resource-based industries. Successful adaptation will pivot on pursuing new opportunities, such as expanding of value-added forestry production (such as mass timber), building out regional supply-chain inputs, developing the agri-food industry, expanding the tourism sector, and developing other nascent industries where opportunities exist. It will also require committed investment in reconciliation and partnership with Indigenous communities, support for small and medium sized enterprises, and development that balances affordability with new commercial opportunity.

There is an entrepreneurial mindset across Northern British Columbia that can continue to thrive with the right support. Individuals are resourceful, motivated, and attuned to the kind of holistic approach that creating new value requires. This is particularly important for building synergies across areas of economic development – for example, elevating a local delicacy into a culinary tourist destination and an export product while doing so in a sustainable manner that protects the local culture and environment.

In many cases, public and private resources are available in some capacity but are underutilized – this suggests more must be done to connect, organize and facilitate access for locals. Funding might be available, economic assessment may have been done, but still there are challenges on the last mile, such as raising awareness, making person-to-person connections, and solving nuances obstacles for local enterprise. British Columbia’s small towns are also highly specialized, and so diversified talent is often at a premium – a concentrated effort to assess human resources needs is required. As cost of living and remote work opportunities encourage more urbanites to move to smaller communities, this also means focused assessment of what kind of new talent may have recently arrived in town.

In addition to investing better locally, communities, businesses and policymakers have numerous geographic advantages to leverage. The Port of Prince Rupert is North America’s closest to Asia – 36 hours closer to Shanghai than Vancouver and nearly three days closer than Los Angeles. Edmonton is closer than Vancouver for any of the communities along Highway 16. These various economic corridors present opportunities at each node along the way, particularly so at a time when resiliency and value-added activity have become top policy priorities at all levels of government. Furthermore, where industries are not at scale for international export, scaling to sell strategically across British Columbia or into Alberta is a first step, and where a community may not produce products directly for export, it may still benefit from providing services or products to those that do.

At Greentech Asia we have been exploring these questions across a variety of sectors in a variety of communities throughout British Columbia. We see significant opportunity not tomorrow but today which can be directly acted upon. Where anxiety exists about the future of dominant industries such as forestry, it is also a time of opportunity to invest in what makes these communities unique, to build new and expand expanding relationships, all while creating new value in a variety of industries.

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