Vital Conversations Help Shape the Future of the Columbia Valley

The Columbia Valley Community Foundation (CVCF) has awarded more than $1.6 million in grants on behalf of citizens and organizations in the Columbia Valley region.   

A core decision-making tool for the CVCF – and Community Foundations across the country – is the Vital Signs data program. Spearheaded by Community Foundations of Canada, the information gathered by Vital Signs helps identify economic development trends and top priorities for community residents. It is a powerful tool that sparks conversations with community leaders, businesses, post-secondary institutions, and government, and inspires them to action through future planning.

A Snapshot of the Region’s Vitality

“Economic development is very much affected by how communities address social issues,” says Thiloma Hofer, Executive Director of CVCF. “This is captured in the Vital Signs report by looking at diverse areas that effect economic growth – such as the environment, climate, food and agriculture, health and wellness, work and earnings, transportation, belonging, quality of life, and housing.”

“Several local organizations contribute to the report by providing local data sets, many of which are not regularly published elsewhere,” says Hofer.  The 2022 report, a comprehensive snapshot of economic and social indicators, is published on the CVCF website.  Copies are available at the CVCF office at the Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce, and at the public libraries in Radium and Invermere.

CVCF has produced three Vital Signs reports so far. Its most recent report, Managing Growth – Challenges and Opportunities was published in 2022, with support from ETSI-BC through its Building Economic Capacity funding stream.  The funding supported the hiring of Theresa Wood, a Business Advisor at the Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce, to coordinate the Vital Signs project. Additional support was provided by the Regional District of East Kootenay, Columbia Basin Trust, and Community Futures East Kootenay.

Population Growth, Cost of Living and Housing are Priority Issues

While the previous 2018 Vital Signs report identified the environment as a priority issue, the 2022 report showed that residents are most concerned about population growth, the increased cost of living, and the shortage of affordable housing. Thirty-four percent of part-time residents of the Columbia Valley indicated they plan to move permanently to the region. The majority are of retirement age and are planning their move within 10 years. 

“Based on this information, the Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce is looking at a business attraction campaign which targets full-time residents, who are needed for the current and future labour market,” says Wood. “We are also looking at how to address recruitment challenges associated with an aging workforce, and opportunities for new business start-ups to support this demographic.”

In the tourism community of Radium Hot Springs, the population increased an astounding 72 percent from 2016 to 2021, and housing has become a major concern. “Vital Signs has inspired discussions about how we can plan for continued growth and avoid conflict when short-term accommodation is so important to a tourism-based economy,” notes Wood.  “Conversations are also taking place about how to keep the community vibrant for residents of all ages and how to retain younger workers.”

An important trend is the growing number of business owners planning to sell their businesses and/or retire. The Columbia Valley Chamber is already connecting with these operators to support them in their transition. A series of business succession planning workshops is also in development.  

Not-for-profit organizations look to Vital Signs for information to aid in their assessment of community needs and their own planning.  The report was also presented to the Local Medical Advisory Committee to help that group understand likely future needs.

“Vital Signs demonstrates how a community can come together to become more resilient and sustainable,” says Laurel Douglas, CEO of ETSI-BC. “With the CVCF’s successful history with Vital Signs, ETSI-BC is interested in exploring how this study could be used as a launching pad to support other Community Foundations in the region with their Vital Signs research, which could potentially help build a holistic picture of the Southern Interior region’s needs as a whole.”

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