As part of the consultation process on the Permanent Resident Attraction & Retention Project, the Columbia Valley local governments along with the hired consultants held a consultation session in Calgary on January 27th. The turnout was much higher then anticipated, with nearly 240 people spending over two hours thinking, brainstorming and commenting on what strategies could be done to increase the number of people who call our valley home on a year-round basis.
Some barriers or limitations were identified, but also many opportunities and successes were highlighted. There were some comments regarding some part-time residents feeling unwelcomed by local residents, but also some comments that they feel very welcomed and have many local friends in the area.
There were some concerns regarding value and level of service for taxation, but then also some strong support for paying more taxes for additional facilities that create year-round and evening vibrancy (whether that is arts and culture, or recreation).
One reality of the group in Calgary was the average age being at least 55 and older. For a large number of the people who attended the session and provided feedback, retirement is something in the immediate future.
Based on the age and looming retirement, a lot of the comments were around the huge importance of health care, health services, and our local hospital.
There was also discussion around the economic opportunities and spin-off industries of catering to an aging population.
The most interesting part of the consultation process so far has been the shared values and similarities between the part-time residents, and the sessions with locals.
Even the feedback from different age and demographic groups have provide many consistencies.
Although there are real concerns with basic economic realities like jobs, careers, housing affordability, etc., there are some pretty strong views about the importance of quality of life, health care and government services — and sense of community.
In some cases, the quality of life and sense of community can be a compelling enough reason for some folks to decide to take the plunge and “figure out a way” to make a go of it in our area, even if the opportunities are not always obvious and easy.
It seems quite apparent — based simply on demographics of baby boomers, but also some of the cutbacks and forced early retirements in Alberta — that a large number of folks are going to be retiring in our area, or, at the bare minimum, spending more time out here.
The real challenge, and where hopefully we can have some influence, is can we also attract and keep the younger families and ensure that our communities remain well rounded, versatile and successful?
We may not have all of the answers, but at least collectively we are asking the questions and discovering we agree on far more things than we may have ever known.
Gerry Taft is mayor of the District of Invermere and a Regional District of East Kootenay director for the Columbia Valley. He can be reached at taft.gerry@gmail.