Sechelt was ranked as one of B.C.’s most economically resilient communities by BC Business Magazine and its research partner Environics Analytics. In a Jan. 12 article comparing data collected in 2021 for 50 communities, the magazine put Sechelt in thirteenth position: up one spot from its 2020 placing.
“We are pleased, but not surprised to see Sechelt ranking in the top 15 …Our community has so much to offer residents and visitors – the options are endless,” Sechelt Mayor Darnelda Siegers told Coast Reporter by email.
The assessment ranks cities with 10,000 or more permanent residents. Sechelt, with 10,200 residents based on 2016 census data, was one of the smallest population centres rated. Parksville and Summerland, which have similar numbers of residents, were ranked as having the fifth and twelfth most resilient economies in the province.
The City of Langford remained in the number one position in 2021 for a second year in a row. The only other Sunshine Coast community included was Powell River. It came in at number 41, down from its 2020 ranking of 34.
To determine the most economically resilient cities, ten indicators were evaluated and points awarded to the areas based on their performance. Ratings for economic diversity and household financial vulnerability had the highest point potential. The household financial vulnerability index was created by Environics to assess household debt, liquid assets and discretionary income. The lower the score, the higher the level of financial security for the typical household in a community.
Sechelt scored a 94 on the household financial vulnerability index and tied with Central Saanich for the sixth lowest rate. That index was highest in Port Alberni, indicating that a greater number of its residents may be facing financial instability issues.
The economic diversity value was determined using factors related to market concentration and labour force diversity. Sechelt secured ninth place in that category.
Mid-range points were awarded in categories including a community’s five-year population growth, residential rental vacancy rates, home sales, new home starts, changes in jobs and annual unemployment rates.
The Coast’s active real estate market helped Sechelt score in the top tier range for residential home sales per 10,000 population. That number was 236, which put it in sixth place, lower than in Kelowna, West Kelowna, Langley, Squamish and Chilliwack, and much further behind the category leader, Whistler with 317.
Sechelt did not fare as well in the area of housing starts, with 53 per 10,000 residents in 2021. That was the eighteenth lowest count, with ten communities achieving double or higher than Sechelt’s rate. The top performer in that category, was Langford with a rate of 265.
The review showed that residential rental vacancy rates remain low across the province. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation primary rental market rates were used to rank the majority of the communities assessed but were not available for Sechelt. A rate of 2.1 per cent was calculated for Sechelt using analysis of its rental stock, advertised rental listings and other factors. Vacancy rates of between .5 and 3 per cent were reported for most communities. Sooke, Whistler and Salmon Arm showed zero per cent vacancies. Dawson Creek and Fort St. John had the most rental availability at 11.1 and 12.3 per cent vacancy.
Sechelt’s five-year population growth figure ranked mid-point in the communities examined at 5.6 percent. Langford came in first in that category at 15 percent and Dawson Creek saw the lowest five-year head count rise at 1.2 percent.
Statistics Canada’s monthly Labour Force Survey were used to determine community rating for changes in jobs and annual unemployment rates. Sechelt’s unemployment rate of 7.4 per cent was near the top of the scale. Only 16 communities reported higher rates, with Terrace having the highest rate of 7.8 per cent.
In the area of changes in jobs per 10,000 residents, Sechelt scored a negative 65 meaning fewer local individuals changed jobs in 2021 than in 2020. That compared to a high of 498 for the interior BC communities of Vernon, Penticton, Summerland and Salmon Arm and a ranking of negative 708 for Fort St. John and Dawson Creek.
Residential greenhouse gas emissions and the sense of community belonging that residents’ feel were also rated but added fewer points to a communities overall economic resiliency ranking.
Sechelt’s residential greenhouse gas emissions per 10,000 population were estimated at 10,491 tonnes of carbon dioxide, putting the municipality at mid-point for the 50 communities assessed.
Environics’ CommunityLife survey was used to rate the sense of community belonging. Sechelt tied with Duncan/North Cowichan for the sixth highest rating, behind Central Saanich, North Vancouver, Summerland, Coquitlam and West Kelowna.
“There’s a great sense of belonging and pride for community that is truly unique to Sechelt. Throughout this pandemic, we have seen business owners step up and persist, even through the hardest times. The Sunshine Coast Community Task Force brought organizations together to ensure those who needed it, had food, that business continued and that community members, individually and as a whole, were taken care of. Residents continue to support local businesses, helping to fuel the economy and most importantly, secure local jobs. People want to know their neighbours and make sure services are accessible to everyone," Siegers wrote.
In an email to Coast Reporter, executive director of the Sunshine Coast Regional Economic Development Organization Colin Stansfield said, "Surveys like this are an interesting glimpse into how our regional economy is faring relative to comparable markets across the province.”
“The survey also points to measures such as housing starts, rental vacancies and even our local carbon footprint, where we can continue to invest time, money and talent to ensure that our thriving Coastal economy is aligned with community values and expands opportunities for all residents.”
The community showing the most progress in resiliency was New Westminster. It moved from the number 35 spot based on 2020 data to second in 2021. On the other end of the scale, Abbotsford dropped 20 spots between those two years, going from 16th to 36th spot.
Communities with economic bases tied to resource industries including Quesnel, Dawson Creek and Prince Rupert occupied the lower end of the resiliency rankings for a second year in a row.
The two most recent assessments featured changes to the magazine’s eighth annual ranking of B.C.’s “best cities for work." Starting in 2020, it added consideration of social and environmental resilience to identify how communities are navigating in a pandemic impacted economy. In the magazine’s reports from 2019 and 2018, which used different criteria, Sechelt was ranked as the province’s twelfth “best community for work."