Allure of the Mountains: BC’s Kootenay Region a Magnet for Millennials

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Originally Posted in Invest in BC 2018 Magazine

B.C.’s Kootenays are a magnet for an increasing number of millennials and
the spectacular landscape may be the second most important attraction.

Picture an outdoorsy B.C. lifestyle with no traffic,
a growing tech industry, affordable living – and
all located on the doorstep to world-class ski hills.
This is the allure of the Kootenays.

This region has been attracting waves of millennials
and gen-Xers for years, particularly among young families
from the Lower Mainland. These innovators and
entrepreneurs are fuelling local industries ranging
from technology to health, metallurgy, engineering,
development and other professional services.

Among the local tech success stories is Rossland-based
Thoughtexchange. Darin Recchi, in charge of community
development and talent initiatives, relocated from North
Vancouver to Rossland in 2016 and hasn’t looked back.
“It wasn’t a money-motivated decision for us. It was a
time-motivated decision,” he says. “We were working 7
to 7 every day, and if you think of the logistics of having
four kids and getting them from A to B throughout the
day, we just hit a point.”

Having many years’ international experience as a
software sales executive, he was grateful to discover
that a move to the Kootenays wouldn’t be the end of his
professional career.

“I was pleasantly surprised at the opportunity to contribute
my experience to a tech company. For me, for
the family, it has been fantastic. In fact, my career has
been better off for it.”

In May 2017, the Trail and area regional economic
development office, Lower Columbia Initiatives Corp.
(LCIC), launched a new economic development marketing
strategy – called Metal Tech Alley (metaltechalley.com)
– to further encourage expansion and attraction of new
business development in the fields of metallurgical
science, industrial recycling and emerging technologies
in big data and the Industrial Internet of Things. With
Trail being home to Teck Metals Ltd. – one of the world’s
largest integrated lead-zinc smelters – and Metallurgical
Industrial Development Acceleration and Studies FabLab,
the area is a hotbed of metallurgical expertise.

At the core of Metal Tech Alley is a new 40,000-squarefoot
facility called the i4C Innovation Centre with big data
labs, production and testing facilities supporting
early-stage 4.0-related companies that want to run their
research and development, light fabrication and commercialization
from a highly strategic facility. Terry Van
Horn, executive director of LCIC, says, “The strategy
is already seeing dividends, with nine new companies
moving into the region and an increased investment of
more than $1 million in the last six months.

“We are getting tons of traction on Metal Tech Alley,
our business inquires have doubled – it’s a super exciting
initiative. We have a brand new innovation hub that is
just exploding,” Van Horn says.

Another appeal to the region is its growing tourism
industry, with demand for hotel staff and related services.
Snow Magazine named Revelstoke the world’s top
ski resort in 2018.

Also, in a ranking of North America’s “best-kept-secret
ski resorts for 2017,” FlightNetwork named Revelstoke
Mountain No. 1, Fernie No. 6 and Kicking Horse in
Golden No. 7.

In Castlegar, where the average house price is $295,000
and your commute time may be five minutes, the lifestyle
appeal is obvious. Mark Laver, the city’s economic
development officer, anticipates Castlegar will be a draw
for the next wave of Vancouver emigrants in search of
more affordable homes.

“The first wave went to Kelowna and now that that
has exploded, the next wave is us. We still have lots of
available land to build on,” he says.
Rob Gretchen left an IT job in Victoria to return to his
hometown. Not only is the cost of living much lower, but
he missed the mountain lifestyle. Today, he is co-owner
of Cycology Bikes in Castlegar.

“I would say the Kootenays is one of the world leaders
in mountain biking. In the triangle between Rossland,
Trail and Castlegar, there’s over a hundred sanctioned
trails,” he says.

But the key reason for moving home, he says, was to
give his two kids the same carefree lifestyle he enjoyed
as a child.

“Growing up here, it was a bit of the Wild West, but
what an amazing childhood. Personally, I wanted to
get back to it and give them the same experience. A lot
of young families are moving into this area for the same
reason. It’s freedom of movement, which I think is the
big attraction.”

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