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episode # 57

Vancouver Island by the Numbers, with John MacDonald

For 24 months and counting, Vancouver Island has become a shining star in the commercial real estate world. In this episode we unpack the numbers.

This week Cory and Adam welcome John MacDonald, publisher of the Business Examiner; one of Vancouver Island’s go to business online publications. He is here to break down how the various island markets fared with each other and provides some insight on the Thompson Okanagan region.

Johns, on the frontlines of the business world is witnessing first-hand how 2022 is affecting various industries, in both a good and bad way.

This is an episode you don’t want to miss so sit back, enjoy the little sunshine we have and crack open your favorite beverage and take in as much from John as you can. Enjoy!

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Episode Summary


Who is John MacDonald? What is the Business Examiner?

Business Examiner used to be called Business Vancouver Island and was founded in 2004 by my parents. I grew up in the business and began working full time with them in 2017. I bought the business in 2020 and we’ve now moved from print to an entirely online model providing local, business news to regions in Vancouver Island and the Okanagan. 

I live in Abbotsford, born and raised in Nanaimo, and operate our business remotely. 

How has the business economy been on Vancouver Island in 2022 so far?

We’re seeing a lot of excitement and a ton of development on Vancouver Island in 2022. The biggest spikes we’ve seen have been in multi-family. 

I’m on the phone with business people every day and what we see in the headlines doesn’t match what’s happening on the ground. We’re hearing a lot about supply chain shortages and labour shortages but there’s still a lot of economic activity happening. Of course, there are some concerns, but we’re very bullish about the next 3-6 months.

What specific region of Vancouver Island is experiencing the most economic growth?

The municipality of Langford has grown by a massive margin. Langford has a very strong reputation across BC for being business friendly. They treat developers and construction very well and are fast to turn around permits. 

What markets on Vancouver Island are seeing the biggest dollar increase in development permits? Where is development happening on Vancouver Island? 

For the South Island, Langford is leading in business development with $248 million in permits year to date. Second would be Victoria, with $128 million, and then Colwood, with $101 million. 

For the Central Island, we have Nanaimo and the Nanaimo Regional District with $241 million and $51 million, respectively, and then $60 million in permits for the Cowichan Valley. 

In the north, Comox Valley is leading by a wide margin, followed by Campbell River and then Port Alberni. In Cumberland in the Comox Valley, we’re seeing some of the first new industrial land come into that area in a long time. 

I think the sleeper pick is the Cowichan Valley. It’s easy to forget about it as you drive through to Victoria. But Cowichan Valley has massive projects, like replacing the hospital, and other investments around that. We’re seeing senior living projects, multi-family projects, mixed-use projects, etc. Indigenous communities are also working on some projects there. It’s a beautiful place to be.

What’s changed in the Nanaimo region in 2022? Why are the changes in Nanaimo happening now? 

A lot of the change in Nanaimo has to do with who is in power. There was a lot of turmoil in Nanaimo’s City Hall for many years. Now that the city has stabilized, there’s confidence for investment. The Indigenous community there is also working with the municipal government on some great partnerships. And, of course, record low interest rates and cheap debt make development easier. 

With covid, people have been allowed to focus on where they want to live and make some lifestyle changes with remote work. That allows more people to move to Nanaimo and the Island. 

Has there been a halo effect or spillover from the increased activity in Nanaimo?

Yes, that’s a great way to put it. People do tend to go further north or spillover when development starts. Age has always been a problem, with most of these communities usually being older. But we are seeing more development in places like Parksville and Nanoose Bay. They’re also beautiful areas, so we understand why people and businesses would want to move there. 

What role does Comox Valley play on the Island?

Comox Valley is home to a lot of young families. They have their own Costco, which is a big thing for the Island. They have an international airport. And they have a fairly progressive group of municipal politicians, specifically in Courtney and Comox. Cumberland is focusing on building their business tax base. 

The government has spent a lot of money to build new hospitals there too. Comox Valley is a business-friendly place, a beautiful place, and a place for young families. It’s comparable to Squamish. 

How is the economy in the Okanagan? How are the business communities in Kelowna and Kamloops doing? 

There is so much happening in Kelowna and Kamloops in terms of economic activity. And yet, the news will tell us that everything is falling apart. But that’s not what people are seeing on the ground. We’re excited to continue expanding in the Okanagan with Business Examiner. 

Similar to what’s happening on the Island, we are seeing spillover effects from Kelowna to Kamloops. I don’t think Kamloops is expanding at the same rate but there is a lot of activity happening. With the post-secondary institution, we have a lot of students who will stay in Kamloops after they graduate. So it’s an exciting city, but I don’t think it’s growing at the same rate as Kelowna.

Where would you invest in British Columbia?

My personal view is that I like to be close to my projects so I can check in. Nanaimo is one of those areas for me. I think there’s still great value available in Nanaimo, especially in commercial real estate. I like Kelowna as well, but I would probably look into residential real estate in Kelowna. The Cowichan Valley is another area of interest, thanks to the hospital expansion. 

What are your predictions for BC businesses and commercial real estate throughout the rest of 2022?

It’s the first time in my professional career that there has been this much uncertainty. I’m curious how the federal government’s commitment to affordable housing will play out. I think things will continue as they are in the next six months. 

Once some of these housing projects have completed, there may be a bit of a slowdown. But we are very optimistic. Entrepreneurs will always move forward and deal with the obstacles. 

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