BY LYN HALL
Mayor, Prince George
It is time once again for perhaps the most important conference of the year in Prince George: the BC Natural Resources Forum. The Forum is one of the most high profile natural resource conferences in Canada and attracts nearly 1,000 delegates including CEOs and experts involved with Canada’s natural resource industry. The fact that Prince George is the Forum’s long-established host reinforces our role as a centre of growing and progressive resource development at the dawn of a new decade. In fact, with $195 Billion in major projects proposed for central and Northern BC, Prince George is – and will continue to be – an important provider of labour, supplies, technology, expertise, and innovation.
A recent event that demonstrates Prince George’s leadership and innovation with the forest industry has to do with – of all things – the weather. Prince George’s recent deep freeze saw the mercury drop to minus 44 degrees (breaking a 41-year-old record). Through the bitter cold, the City’s Downtown Renewable Energy System heated all of the connected buildings without using fossil fuels.
What makes this possible is that the City works with a local sawmill, Lakeland Mills, to use woodchips to heat water that is circulated through more than three kilometres of underground pipes and heats nearly a dozen buildings downtown with locally sourced, renewable, and low-carbon fuel. That this provided 100 percent of our heat through such a cold period was remarkable and might be a first for Canada.
Examples like this are illustrative of Prince George’s expertise and leadership in forestry, but this knowledge and established capacity is being applied across all resource sectors.
Take mining for example. Prince George is home to 300 mining supply companies providing more than a quarter of a billion dollars worth of materials, goods, and services to BC mines and smelters. In fact, Prince George is the second largest mining supply hub in BC! Yet another reason we are often referred to as the Hub City. Even though the closest mine is a three hour highway drive away, Prince George’s location at the intersection of Highways 16 and 97 as well as its rail connectivity make it an ideal location for manufacturing, distribution, transportation, and warehousing.
Another example is Coastal Gaslink, which is a 670-kilometre pipeline under construction that will deliver natural gas from Dawson Creek to a liquefied natural gas terminal in Kitimat. Site preparation has begun, and Prince George is an important distribution centre for sections of pipe. Construction of the pipeline will ramp up next summer, employing up to 2,500 workers in our region. In addition, construction of the massive $40 Billion LNG Canada Terminal in Kitimat provides significant opportunities for small to medium sized contractors and suppliers with Prince George contributing transportation and professional, financial, and supply services.
These examples – from forestry, mining, and energy – demonstrate Prince George’s ability to foster diverse investments in the natural resource sectors and residents and visitors can see the results. Construction in our city is everywhere! For the first time since we started recording building permit information, we surpassed 600 permits in 2019, and the value reached nearly a quarter-billion dollars. Both totals beat the previous records by an impressive 20 percent. Residential development has driven the permits boom. Notably, in 2018 and 2019, we saw a significant increase in long-needed local multi-family developments. We have also seen several new hotels start construction over the past few years.
So where does the road ahead lead us? Our economy is diversified and resilient. The Conference Board of Canada recently published a report indicating steady growth in the coming years. The Prince George Global Logistics Park and Foreign Trade Zone, located adjacent to the Prince George International Airport, has experienced increasing interest in recent months.
All of this is recognized in the City of Prince George’s 2020-2025 Economic Development Strategy, which focuses on business growth within five areas:
- Forestry, wood products, and bio products
- Transportation, warehousing, and e-commerce
- Manufacturing: machinery, chemical, and food
- Professional services: engineering, environmental services, and resource management
- Construction: commercial, industrial, residential, and general contractors
These areas were picked because they are already strong components of the Prince George economy. What is exciting is that their potential for even more growth and collaboration with the region’s resource sectors is truly unlimited.