Carcross Tagish Management Corporation
Boosting the economy in Carcross, Yukon can be a challenge. The First Nation community at the gateway to the Yukon Interior has a population of 289. Sixty-one per cent of visitors that pass through stay for one hour and don’t contribute much to the local economy. But an enterprising local corporation called Carcross Tagish Management Corp. has risen to that challenge.
As a private sector company, Carcross Tagish Management Corp. is the Carcross/Tagish First Nations economic development branch. Its vision is to build the private sector and create a thriving economy, which will improve employment levels and the community’s population. Its goal is to create business opportunities in accordance with the culture and traditions of the First Nation community.
Carcross Tagish Management CEO Justin Ferbey spoke with The Canadian Business Journal about the successes and unique challenges involved with boosting the community’s economy and reviving its downtown core.
Situated on the Klondike Highway between Whitehorse and Skagway, Alaska, Carcross boasts a plethora of historic attractions and pristine mountainous wilderness. The Carcross/Tagish people have a 130-year history of deriving economic benefit from visitors to the area. CTMC’s mandate is in tune with this strategy.
As part of its tactic to boost the private sector economy, Ferbey says the corporation focuses on four key pillars. The first is to generate new markets for day-trippers that come from Skagway on cruise ship tours, motorcar day trips, and the railway.
In 2005, the Carcross Singletrack to Success was designed to attract tourism and revive land-based traditions in the local youth and promote community wellness. As recently as April, Outside magazine, a major U.S. outdoor adventure publication, named Carcross and Whitehorse a top destination for mountain biking.
“We put many of our young kids back in the mountains to build trails, which has long been a history of Tlingit culture,” Ferbey says, referring to the extensive trails accommodating mountain biking and hikers. Over the past six or seven years now, they’ve developed 65 kilometres of trail.
The second pillar is to offer visitors services and attractions to encourage a longer stay and an enriching experience. This summer, the Carcross Commons Commercial Village opens. It offers a variety of commercial, office, and community spaces for lease.
“It’s a commercial village complete with a number of retail experiences,” Ferbey says. “There is a fully licensed restaurant, an art gallery, salmon, high-end coffee, there’s artist ware. So we created, now in essence, a main street if you will.”
The third pillar involves building well-priced accommodations for the summer tourism season. The Montana Mountains Cabins is a development in the works to provide a range of services in the community. The accommodations are targeted at the younger segment of the adventure tourism market. The cabins will offer convenience, a five-minute bike ride from the base of Montana Mountain, which is the focus of the trail development due to its cultural significance and varied terrain. The cabins will also be a two-minute walk to the economic centre with food services, retail, and entertainment. It will also offer social space, which includes cabins and bunkhouses with common areas for social activities and interaction.
The fourth pillar involves building up what Ferbey called the year-round economy in Carcross. To do that, the corporation has focused on developing residential areas on its landholdings and waterfront. Carcross is home to Lake Bennett Beach, which was recently named one of Canada’s top beaches by National Geographic, and is a key location for building in Carcross.
“Right now the properties on Bennett will be about 70 lots. And we’re just negotiating with the Government of Yukon to see if we can partner up and put a road in to roll on the actual properties in the summer of next year,” says Ferbey. “Once we raise the population of Carcross potentially with this subdivision, the smaller businesses and downtown core potentially can be open to local people, the local citizens in the winter and summer, and to cater to the high tourist numbers.”
Building on the land in Carcross is generally expensive due to the additional land premium. This factor is one key challenge a company like Carcross Tagish Management faces, and in combination with the premium and Carcross being a startup economy, it is more difficult to attract businesses and investments.
“The revenue you’ll get in the early years is about half you’re going to get in Whitehorse. So when you look at your net operational income, it’s half of what you get in a place that’s a lot more expensive,” Ferbey explains. “This fact scares some business owners.”
The Government of Yukon recently rented a space in the Carcross Commons for a visitors centre to accommodate the needs of over 90,000 visitors per year coming to Carcross. Ferbey says this is a key factor that attracts residents and businesses. Being so close to amenities has seen double the numbers of visitors in the past two years. Another factor attracting businesses to Carcross is how the Carcross Tagish Management Corp. has mitigated local entrepreneurs’ rent risk in the Carcross Commons.
“Our thought is in the first three or four years, over time when the model proves out and these people start seeing the visitation hit their bottom line, the rent will go up. But in the initial years, it’s virtually free,” Ferbey says, adding that it has attracted entrepreneurs with a higher tolerance for risk.
Currently, the big development underway is the Lake Bennett Beach project, a residential commercial lot on the waterfront. A road will be constructed this year with the first show unit built in the fall. By next spring and summer, Ferbey says the company hopes to begin taking orders on new lots.
Ferbey highlighted how the corporation gives back to the community by investing in a risky startup economy. The corporation has become a patron of the arts and recently commissioned totems by local artists. The corporation is also one of the major employers of local people.
“The benefit is we’re doing actual business activity in the area,” Ferbey says. “People will likely get a job with us. It is good employment with good salaries.”