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Evidence thin in Kelowna of a millennial invasion from Vancouver

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March 25, 2016 - 1:00 PM

NO DOUBT YOUNG PEOPLE ARE MOVING HERE BUT WHERE ARE THEY COMING FROM?

KELOWNA - It’s a tempting vision — hordes of talented millennials cashing out of Vancouver and its stratospheric housing market for burgeoning tech hubs like Kelowna and Victoria.

With the highest rents in the country (and a vacancy rate even lower than Kelowna’s) the narrative is that a good chunk of that city’s brightest techies are pulling up stakes and moving to where their dollar goes further.

Victoria and Kelowna, so the story goes, offering an equivalent lifestyle and increasing job opportunities, are among the main beneficiaries of this exodus.

That’s the premise of a recent Bloomberg news article that ran front page in The Province and also made The Globe and Mail.

And it’s music to the ears of local realtors and Raghwa Gopal, CEO of local tech incubator Accelerate Okanagan.

But while Bloomberg offers census-based evidence of Vancouver's millennial exodus, even Gopal admits the article doesn’t offer much beyond anecdotes to show where exactly they are going.

“There is not a lot of hard evidence at this point, although over the last three or four months I’ve had half a dozen people from there call and ask about opportunities in Kelowna,” Gopal says. “My feeling is that it is happening but it’s going take six months or so to really see it."

Techology related businesses are no longer a niche in the Okanagan Valley to be sure — it’s now an industry worth $1 billion according to Accelerate Okanagan, with over 500 companies (Kelowna has the lion’s share) and 6,000 employees plus another couple thousand contract workers.

Let's look at some of the numbers.

Bloomberg defines millennials as those 18 to 24 and 25 to 44. In the Central Okanagan, the younger group make up just 9.6 per cent of the population in 2015 (according to B.C. Statistics population estimator).

Before 2005, that number was dropping, edging upward only after UBC Okanagan opened its doors.

Older millennials, as a group, have actually shrunk, dropping from 30 per cent in 1995 to 24.8 per cent in the last two years, although both categories have increased their actual numbers in the last five years.

Even giving a tighter definition of a millennial — ages 25 to 34 — doesn’t move the dial upwards; they make up 12.8 per cent of the Central Okanagan, a number that’s dropped from just over 14 per cent in 1995.

It’s only when drilling a little deeper, measuring the increase in their total numbers, is there some sign of life with that age group increasing by 5.7 per cent last year, a jump from the two per cent increase in 2014.

Still, something’s happening in Kelowna, Chad Kohalyk insists. The technologist and writer moved with his young family to the Okanagan in 2012.

Kohalyk was working for Apple but got to know people in the Kelowna tech development community during maternity leave and says he was amazed at the potential he saw, both professionally and personally.

“After about two months, I ended up partnering with a local software development company, quit my job back in Vancouver and moved us into a small house in Kelowna,” he says.

Although he has no numbers, Kohalyk says the ranks of local technology companies are heavy with talented people from places like Vancouver and Edmonton who have identified an opportunity and made the jump to a smaller community.

“For a certain type of person, Kelowna has a lot to offer over the bigger centres. Kelowna is a growing city and in tech terms, is still sort of frontier land,” he says.

Lifestyle is big part of the draw, he adds, even if he doesn’t own a house and says he couldn’t afford one, even in Kelowna.

“We pay about the same as we did in Vancouver. However, there we lived in Richmond and it was a 10-minute walk and a 25-minute train ride to work downtown. Here it is a five-minute bike ride to downtown and three blocks from my house to the beach.”

For his part, Gopal plans to quantify the millenial rush during Accelerate Okanagan’s next industry survey in three months.

“We didn’t ask where people were coming from last time around and I think it’s worth knowing,” Gopal says. “It will help us find where we should be focusing our marketing efforts."

To contact the reporter for this story, email John McDonald at jmcdonald@infonews.ca or call 250-808-0143. To contact the editor, email mjones@infonews.ca or call 250-718-2724.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2016
InfoTel News Ltd

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