COLUMN: ‘Signs of the times’ need a-changin’

Driving through Abbotsford, it becomes painfully obvious that there is something endemically wrong with our community...

Driving through Abbotsford, it becomes painfully obvious that there is something endemically wrong with our community.

In virtually every mall, along almost every commercial street, there are vacancies.

Every blank storefront, every unoccupied office, means one thing: nobody is working there, jobs have been lost or were never created in the first place.

And vacancies, lots of them, also mean there’s no need for new construction … commercial, industrial and residential – more jobs going unfulfilled.

It seems in my somewhat limited travels, the “for rent,” “for lease,” and “for sale” signs, while perhaps not unique to our community, are seen in far greater number here than in neighbouring Langley or Chilliwack.

In fact, Langley appears to be in a dramatic surge of construction and investment. The streets are jammed, the stores full and signs of vacancies few and far between.

So what’s the problem here?

Why does Abbotsford, with its remarkably stable base economy of agriculture, have the highest unemployment rate in the B.C.?

Yes folks, there are more people without jobs and therefore not spending money, in our fair city than anywhere else in the province.

At one time there was a shortage of commercial/industrial land in Abbotsford. No longer the case, to wit the extensive lands just north of the airport, fully serviced with underground utilities and a fine looking four/five lane boulevard from the Clearbrook interchange. For the most part, it is now growing wild grass instead of family-supporting jobs.

Let’s be clear, there are many successful businesses here, and this is not a poor town.

But we are not growing the way we should. We are not creating job opportunities for the kids who go to school here, and who attend our university but have to look elsewhere for work.

More and more, I would guess, commuters are hitting the freeway for jobs in Langley, Surrey or Chilliwack.

I don’t have a why, and I don’t have a cure, but I can guess that business is reluctant to come to Abbotsford because there is not a business-friendly atmosphere where it counts – at city hall.

I am told that fees, delays and approvals sitting on back burners, are so discouraging and costly that investors stay away in droves, putting their money into communities that are more welcoming from a financial point of view.

Having a business proposal sit in limbo for months or years has a simple answer . . . go somewhere else.

And the vacant lands and buildings in Abbotsford are testament to the fact that not only is something wrong here, there needs to be a sea-change in the way business applications are dealt with at city hall.

I’m not necessarily pointing fingers at staff, though it is my impression that many have lived too long in a culture that has either ignored or allowed the stagnation.

There are many issues that will be presented to candidates during the civic elections this fall. One of them must be why our city has a poverty of jobs; a second must be why is it continuing; and third should be “what will you do to change it?”

A friendly, responsive and timely attitude towards investment will create jobs, increase revenues to the city and enhance the municipal tax regime.

It will also, as money flows into workers’ pockets, eliminate a lot of those vacancy signs.