A snapshot of the Columbia Basin economy shows an area with an aging population, where many still struggle to make ends meet.
The Columbia Basin Rural Development Institute (RDI) at Selkirk College released its 2019 snapshot report, a region wide check-up that investigates economic, social, environmental and cultural indicators for the Columbia Basin and Boundary.
Along with trivia (there are 180 annual festivals in the Basin; Basin residents visit the library on average eight times a year) are indications that the recovery from the 2008 recession has been slow.
There were 38,080 businesses in the region — the first drop in numbers in seven years.
There were 729 business starts in the region, with the rural area between Salmo and Fruitvale seeing the most starts, while Nakusp saw the biggest decrease.
Housing starts were down too, with $397 million in permits being issued.
“Only nine out of 26 communities in the region (Golden, Nelson, Canal Flats, Sparwood, Rossland, Fernie, Grand Forks, Salmo and Trail) have surpassed the level of spending on building prior to the 2008 recession,” says the report. “Building activity in the region has not yet fully recovered since the recession, but spending has been increasing annually.”
The slow recovery also sits on the job market.
The region’s 2018 unemployment rate was 5.3 per cent, compared to the B.C. average of 4.7 per cent
The average offered hourly wage was $20.75 in the Kootenays, compared to the B.C. average of $20.51 and Canadian average of $20.95
The median annual household income in the Columbia Basin-Boundary in 2016 was $66,480, which was less than the provincial median of $69,995.
Jobs in the retail and wholesale industries employ the greatest number of people, closely followed by health care and social assistance in both the region and the province.
On average, 15 per cent of Columbia Basin-Boundary residents, or 16,830 families, were considered low income in 2016.
The median after-tax income for these families ranged between $26,624 per year for families with no children to $47,320 for families with three or more children.
Aging and moving
The snapshot also gives insight into the make-up of the population.
About 173,000 people live in the Kootenay-Columbia-Boundary area, an increase of about 1,320.
Invermere, Kimberley, and Radium are among the fastest-growing communities in the Basin. Greenwood, Fruitvale and Canal Flats were shrinking the fastest.
The Kootenay’s population is getting older, faster. The average age was 44, and the fastest-growing cohort by far were seniors. There was a 41 per cent increase in the number of Kootenay residents over 65, while the numbers of both youth (under 19) and 19 to 65 year olds declined.
Overall, our population is expected to decline by about five per cent by 2041, while the province’s overall population is expected to climb more than 25 per cent.
The numbers show the population of the area remains overwhelmingly white and European. Only about 3.6 per cent of the population belongs to a visible minority group, which is well below the provincial average of 30.3 per cent. People with South Asian, Filipino and Chinese ethnicities make up the greatest proportion of the visible minority population in the Columbia Basin-Boundary.
You may not know it from local community Facebook pages, but crime is down in the region, according to stats.
“Crime rates (including violent crimes) in our region were at their lowest in 2014 since 1998,” the report says. “Crime severity fluctuates annually in our region, but has decreased 37 per cent from 1998 to 2017. We continue to be well below the provincial average on the crime severity index.”
The check-up is important to residents, organizations, businesses and local governments to understand present conditions and trends. The data in the report informs decision making that shapes the future of communities in the region.
“RDI is continuing to provide research on well-being to support evidence-based decision making across the Columbia Basin-Boundary,” says Dr. Adela Tesarek Kincaid, Rural Development Institute lead researcher at Selkirk College. “The suite of State of the Basin research initiatives will continue to assist local communities by providing relevant and reliable data.”