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Blog by Steve Burk

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Okanagan experiencing huge growth

Travel writers have called the Okanagan Valley all sorts of things, from the Napa, Florida or Hawaii of the North to Canada’s Tuscany. They sometimes seem surprised that the climate is so mild, the terrain so civilized.

Not long ago Frommer’s Travel Guides picked the valley as one of its Top Travel Destinations for 2007, while the San Francisco Chronicle ventured: “Once known mainly as a getaway for Vancouverites and then as an up-and-coming wine region, Kelowna and the surrounding Okanagan Valley have rapidly matured into a year-round, full-featured ‘lifestyle’ destination for epicureans and active travelers,” alluding later to Kelowna’s “paradoxical blend of bucolic and cosmopolitan ways of life.”

The Okanagan Valley’s allure encompasses far more than natural wonders, with a booming economy and de facto full employment. As one government employee puts it: “If you’re looking for a job and a fantastic lifestyle, you couldn’t go wrong by moving to the Okanagan. It’s a fabulous place to live and it’s a great place to work.”

Just look at a few of the features that draw people to such cities as Kelowna, Penticton, Vernon, Westbank and Osoyoos. Home of Canada’s only true desert, the region possesses and abundance of natural resources, just about every type of outdoor recreation in a climate blessed with more sunshine than virtually any other part of the province.

Those fortunate enough to live here have access to a wealth of lakes, golf courses, vineyards, sandy beaches, destination ski resorts and provincial parks. Located in southcentral B.C., halfway between Vancouver and the Canadian Rockies, less than an hour’s flight from Vancouver, the Okanagan is easily accessible from Whistler, Seattle Calgary and Edmonton.

Robert Fine, director of economic development for the Central Okanagan Regional District, knows perhaps better than anyone just how vigorous is the area’s economic climate. Population has grown by 10.9 per cent over the past five years and economic growth up 5.6 per cent last year over the previous one. “Our economic growth, while extremely healthy, has slowed because of labour shortages primarily in the construction industry,” he says, a situation ameliorated in part by recruitment in France, Germany and the U.K. to bring in 100 families.

“So although there’s a slight dip over last year, we still expect more than 2,600 housing starts. All around the region there are exciting things happening, whether ski hills or a combination of recreational and residential. We also have some $8 billion worth of new development, both public and private on the books or over the next five years, including the $140 million new bridge, to be completed next summer.” Add to that the $.5 billion UBC Okanagan campus expansion, the airport runway extension and it’s obvious that the pace of progress is anything but slow.

Vancouver Sun
Saturday, June 23, 2007