With the announcement of Shell’s $40 billion LNG Canada project, the economic future of North East BC is bright and inevitable. This major infrastructure project will create thousands of jobs and be a vibrant economic hub for years to come. Fort St. John is also the regional hub of the Site C Dam project, a major project that will result in housing needs for thousands of workers. Read: low vacancy, high rents.
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About Trevor Bolin:
Trevor was born and raised in Fort St. John. He is a City Councillor and business owner.
On why he is excited about Fort St. John right now as an investment opportunity:
Fort St. John is on the map right now due to the Site C Dam project that was recently undertaken by BC Hydro in the area that has employed approximately 3,000 people. There has also been the Fall 2018 announcement of the LNG Canada investment of $40 Billion in the surrounding area (largest private investment in Canada’s history). For this project, for every $1 spent to erect the plant in Kitimat, BC there will be $3.8 dollars is invested in the Fort St. John area to extract and transport the natural resources. Investment will be needed to build the lease, build the site, move the camps, drilling, surveyors, services and extraction. This will translate into a 40-year project for the Fort St. John area. The demand for workers will be unprecedented.
On the current population demographics of Fort St. John:
Fort St. John is a very young community. It has an average age of 30.4 years old with an average income of $125,000 per year. It is not a large city: 36-40 sq KM in size. It is cold, but they have more sunshine days than any place in Western Canada. People will move to Fort St. John for work, but stay for the lifestyle.
On the services in the area and what has been happening recently:
Recently, the Province of BC has been investing in Fort St. John and building two new elementary schools and a large hospital. The Province realizes there will be a large need for these resources, which lends credibility to the viability of this area and what the future holds. The community has the highest disposable income of any community in the area of similar size. This attracts people for work, but the area is a great place to live. A small town feel with big city mentality.
Where will the workers be coming from to fill these new jobs:
Unemployment in Fort St. John is approximately below 3.5% currently. This is before any of this new investment is happening, so the city will need to see a huge influx of people in the near future. The new workers are expected from the southern part of BC and from Alberta.
On if he sees a typical trajectory for people moving to Fort St. John:
Trevor sees people moving to Fort St. John and renting for 6-12 months. They will eventually buy in the area as their circumstances change. Maybe people want to start a family or they need more space or they have decided they want to stay for the long term. Some of the work is seasonal in Fort St. John – very busy in the fall and winter as it is easiest for oil and gas when the roads and sites are frozen. When people get to understand this market, they find a sweet spot of the place they want to call home. Most people upgrade their home every 3-4 years as their needs change.
On where we are currently in the Fort St John real estate market cycle:
The market was hit a bit hard in 2016-2017 as most areas that have large reliance on the resource sector. Right now, Fort St. John is on a climb due to the billions of dollars being committed to the area. This has given the area a renewed confidence and we know it will be the leader in GDP growth in the Province. There was an increase in the average home price from last year of 2.6% to %2.7. Commonly, the growth in the area should be approx. 4%-6% year over year generally – sometimes more depending on investment. Fort St. John real estate market has historically been based on a 3 year cycle with Natural Gas in the past – but with this new investment, including new oil and forestry – we should see the real estate market strengthen.
On rents in the area:
The vacancy rate is currently 7%, which is down significantly from a year ago (when it was about 12%). We expect that the spring of 2019 will see rates of 3%-4%, moving to a 0%-1% rate in the fall of 2019. This should see an increase of rents, as the vacancy rate decreases.
On Fort St. John being landlocked, similar to Vancouver:
Fort St. John is not like Calgary because you cannot build for miles. There are huge restrictions on land supply in Fort St. John due to the Agricultural Land Commission and the protected land in the area. The city has had 2 boundary expansions in the last 5 years, but prior to that it was decades before any expansion was approved. Some proposals for expansion recently have been denied. Fort St. John is politically landlocked.
On the current energy in Fort St. John:
It is great in Fort St. John right now. The highway traffic has doubled and you can see the benefit in the community immediately. The town is busy and everyone is excited. It is the calm before the storm, but there is excitement in the air due to the guaranteed employment for people for the next 5-10 years.
On the biggest risks for investors looking at this market:
The biggest risk to investment generally is not doing your homework. If you are interested in investing in Fort St. John, try to get in touch with someone local and take the time to learn about the area or visit the area. This will pay huge dividends!
Adam and Matt echo this sentiment and are organizing an investment tour on March 9th to Fort St. john for people that are interested.