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Vernon  

Business is booming

North Okanagan politicians were upbeat about business opportunities and expanded services for residents during speeches to the Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce Wednesday.

In the most expansive presentation, North Okanagan Regional District board chairman Rick Fairbairn said regional planning was underway on an employment lands action plan.

“We are working together to support expansion and attract new employment to the region,” said Fairbairn, who praised the partnerships of neighbouring communities to get things done. “No one community has all of the assets required to attract a large employer.”

Of key importance is the expansion of the Swan Lake corridor.

“I think they're in the experimental stages,” Fairbairn said afterwards. “They're taking a look at how those properties can be expanded.”

A memorandum of understanding has been signed by the regional district, the Okanagan Indian Band, the District of Spallumcheen and electoral area B “to further pursue opportunities for the businesses in that area.”

Fairbairn also revealed the regional district was considering the establishment of an economic development position to “mirror the hard work of the City of Vernon's (Kevin) Poole and his team.”

He also reminded the business audience that agriculture is still big business in the region, bringing in $126 million annual and accounting for five per cent of the labour force in the North Okanagan.

“Our priority is to welcome new business and development,” Vernon Mayor Akbal Mund told the group, also praising the “huge strides in regional co-operation.”

In terms of growth, Mund said, “There is building going on everywhere (in the city).”

He said the next big structure to go up would be the new ice sheet at Kal Tire Place.

Council and staff would next start on a “facilities master plan to meet the needs of our residents” that would include looking at possible new cultural facility and a new RCMP building.

“We're going strong,” said Mike Reilly, Coldstream's director of development services, referring to building statistics showing growth in Coldstream. “We're well over the slow times of 2008 and back to pre-slump numbers.”

Reilly pointed to a new subdivision going in “right at the top” of Middleton mountain, with 29 lots.

On June 20, senior district staff and council will start working on a strategic plan for the last half of the term – focusing on increased infrastructure, including expansion of the sewer system and an expanded transportation network, Reilly said.

All three politicians at the table agreed attainable housing was an issue.

“It has been an issue for the last ten years in just about every community,” said Mund.

He said any solution had to be a “four-pronged” collaboration between federal, provincial and muncipal governments as well as developers who “had to buy in” to the concept.

Meanwhile, Coldstream is looking into the possible legalization of secondary suites or an area where those suites would be allowed, said deputy mayor Pat Cochrane.

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