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Why are you still living in Vancouver? The business case for the north

There is more than $60 billion in major capital projects planned or underway across northern B.C.

Get here. From Prince George west to Kitimat and Prince Rupert, and north to Fort St. John and Fort Nelson, communities across this province are speaking out with a common message: the time to live and work in northern B.C. is now.

That’s a hard pill to swallow for many Lower Mainlanders who enjoy the hustle and bustle of the big city, its restaurants, shopping, parks, beaches and stadiums.

After all, it’s hard to compete with a town the Economist called the third most livable city on the planet.

Yet the business case to work and live in the north is more compelling than any reason to stay in the Lower Mainland.

First, the level of capital investment in the north is staggering.

There is more than $60 billion in major capital projects planned or underway across northern B.C., representing approximately 45% of the total proposed capital investments in the province in the coming years.

Those investments are spread across a diverse range of sectors, including mining, oil and gas, forestry, clean energy, shipping, transportation and health care.

But only 8% of the province’s population calls the north home, which means there is a serious need for labourers and professionals to move north and fill jobs.

There are many other compelling reasons to move north.

The median annual household income in Prince George ($72,000) is higher than in Metro Vancouver ($67,000).

A three-bedroom house with a yard and a garage for $300,000 is not an uncommon find in Prince George.

In Vancouver, the average house price remains above $700,000.

Simply put, workers can earn more and pay less to live in northern B.C. than in the Lower Mainland.

But what about the lifestyle?

There’s no question that outdoor recreation activities such as mountain biking, skiing, fishing, hunting and hiking remain big selling features for the north, but it would be a mistake to think that’s all the region has to offer.

Granted, Prince George doesn’t have a Robson Street, but there’s no shortage of places to shop and eat.

As one city councillor in Fort Nelson recently told me, “We’re not forced to live here. We choose to live here.”

And the level of activity isn’t limited to major centres such as Prince George.

During a recent tour of communities throughout northwest and northeast B.C., I found pretty much every town abuzz with economic activity.

The roads between Terrace and Kitimat are filled with blue- and white-collar professionals hard at work on the Rio Tinto Alcan aluminum smelter upgrade, liquefied natural gas terminals and other projects.

In the seaside city of Prince Rupert, new businesses are opening in part thanks to the growing success of the port, which continues to set cargo movement records and unveil expansion plans.

Even sleepy Stewart and the ghost town of Cassiar are playing host to renewed mining activity.

In the northeast, more and more planes continue to ferry traffic in and out of Fort Nelson and Fort St. John to service the Horn River and Montney shale gas basins – a boom that some have compared to what happened in Fort McMurray and the oilsands.

And major centres such as Prince George, which serves as a key road, rail and air transport hub for the province, are benefiting from activity throughout the region.

The sheer amount of activity in the north is an enticing business prospect all on its own, but the lifestyle benefits that accompany the region are making it an increasingly easy sell to Lower Mainlanders who’ve grown tired of over-priced condo living and traffic snarls.

The sales pitch worked on me.

After two years covering the resource industry and northern issues (thank you, Business in Vancouver), this former reporter decided to bid farewell to his South Granville apartment and carve out a life in the north.

The question is: what are you waiting for?

Get here.