COLUMN: Our ‘jobs’ picture needs changing

Here we are in one of the most economically stable communities, thanks to agriculture ...

COLUMN: Our ‘jobs’ picture needs changing

Here we are in one of the most economically stable communities, thanks to agriculture, yet we have one of the highest unemployment rates in the province. And that, it seems, may be sending a message to the city administration which is currently and about time, shaking things up.

Economic development is vital to growth and job creation to support business and families.

Abbotsford, sitting on the edge of a vibrant economic region, likes to call itself the fifth largest city in the province, yet trails abysmally its neighbours in development investment. As a result our unemployment rate currently is at 8.3 per cent, a full two percentage points higher than the provincial average and, for example, double the rate in Nanaimo.

So what is Abbotsford’s problem? Why are so many out of work here? Why are so few people investing here in comparison to neighbouring Langley?

That community, which due to political boundaries, has both a ‘city’ and a ‘district’ which, if amalgamated, would knock Abbotsford down a notch or two on the ‘who is bigger’ scale.

But it is not so much the number of bedrooms that count as it is businesses, and investment vibrancy. Everywhere you look in Langley, things are booming. Traffic volumes are enormous, but thanks to planning, vehicles move relatively smoothly and quickly. Streets and routes actually connect and you can move from south Langley to its industrial heart in the north with relative ease, overpasses and multi-lane road-widening seem to be constantly under construction.

And along the way you see remarkable investments in new commercial buildings created with what appears to be great confidence in the business community … why else would someone construct a reported $5-million Mercedes dealership, directly across the street from a newly opened BMW store?

How many luxury car lots are there in Abbotsford? Despite the unemployment rate, there is still a lot of money in our community and there are plenty of high-end autos cruising our streets.

If I were to guess why we aren’t experiencing the type of growth and business confidence that is occurring just a few miles to the west, it is because there may be barriers to investment: high taxes, red tape, lack of planning, too many bureaucratic hoops to pass through.

Even Chilliwack, which has long had a sign on the freeway saying “Open for business, call the Mayor”, appears to be attracting investment that is leapfrogging us.

I won’t say it’s been stagnant, but other than residential growth,  our city has been at a crawl – the current unemployment rate sending a clear message, I hope, to those who make the decisions here.

Change of attitude doesn’t come overnight, though it appears change is on the way, thanks to some recent actions by Abbotsford’s new city administrator.

He may have a tough row to hoe to alter the culture that in many ways seems pervasive, but he appears capable of the task provided council members have the foresight to support him.

We may not have the population of Surrey next door like Langley does, but the 20-mile gap between us and them can be overcome with some innovative economic incentives to investment.

markrushton@abbynews.com