City of Langford
The vibrant City of Langford, British Columbia, with a population of 40,000 people, is the largest municipality within the urban core of the Western Communities on Vancouver Island and has been making headlines for the past several years on a number of exciting projects that have served to enhance the community’s economic vitality.
The Canadian Business Journal recently spoke with Langford Mayor Stewart Young, who has held the position for the past 25 years and has seen, first-hand, the incredible transformation of his city during the past quarter of a century.
Langford has a long, storied history, dating back to the early European settlers in the mid-1800s. It was first established as one of four Hudson’s Bay Company farms by Captain Edward Langford and was also the site of early settlements during the gold rush era. However, it wasn’t until the City’s official incorporation in 1992 that the tremendous economic transformation began to really take hold.
One of the most recent significant achievements was the opening of a new 300-acre industrial park, executed in partnership with the Scia’new First Nation – on Beecher Bay – and the Municipality of Metchosin.
“It’s one of the first ones of its kind in Canada where we created an economic zone, which is where the jobs will be for the next 20 years. There’s a real need for business parks and high paying jobs,” begins Mayor Young.
Within the sprawling industrial park, located about 4km from the city’s centre, there are many diversified types of businesses operations including warehousing, building supplies and manufacturers and many others associated with the construction industry.
“We try and make sure that the services that we need in our community for building roads and sidewalks and lights are there, including electrical and drywall contractors,” explains Young.
A primary economic benefit to having this industrial park is that Langford now has a wide range of jobs and services at its doorstep through those tenant businesses, which in turn allows more residents to work within city limits without having to drive to Victoria or elsewhere.
Young says the entire process was completed about a year ago and executed with a great deal of efficiency and cooperation in partnership with the provincial government and the First Nations community.
“When you offer an opportunity for high-paying jobs people get behind it. If you get rid of the red tape and the bureaucracy it’s a tremendous help,” notes Young.
In fact, the last thing Young or anyone in Langford has patience for dealing with is the arduous process of seemingly countless studies on economic development projects. Instead, it’s about being proactive and putting plans into action.
“We’re not going to sit here and do endless studies,” emphasizes Young. “There are seven of us on City Council and we’re elected to make decisions. First Nations, Metchosin and our City, we all want the same thing – prosperity and success. You can still keep your identity, your culture and your beliefs and still make progress together.”
In 1992, barely 3% of Langford’s tax base was industrial and commercial. Today, thanks to great leadership, vision, tenacity and planning the commercial and industrial tax base is now hit 20% and still rising.
Much has changed over the past 25 years, but a constant vision has always been for Langford to be a self-sustaining community. It’s taken a lot of hard work and dedication, but the fruits of such hard labour are clearing paying off in large dividends.
“We want to lower taxes and roll out the red carpet for business because that’s the lifeblood of your community,” says Young.
Additionally, a new 50-acre tech park has been approved, and with the land cleared Seacliff Properties will build offices and create a tight-knit community with affordable housing and recreational opportunities.
“We’ve got a 50-acre piece that we call a comprehensive zone and it will house offices, apartments and condos. The other is a tech zone off our new interchange,” explains Young.
Another major endeavor is the revamping of the downtown district, with an aim of having higher green density in the walk-around core. The north side of town is home to the big-box stores and in order to get to and from there, people must drive through the downtown core and Goldstream Avenue to reach the large mall on the south side. In effect, they serve as two anchors at both ends and the traditional downtown right in the centre.
Education and Jobs
About 5,000 students get in their vehicles each day and drive in heavy traffic into Victoria to either the University of Victoria or Camosun College. The City of Langford has already signed a memorandum of understanding with Royal Roads and is looking at intensifying discussions with Camosun College and the University of Victoria to find a solution on how to serve an ever-expanding population base.
“They need a university campus out here with close to 90,000 people living on the West Shore. The largest population of students is in the West Shore,” notes Young.
Mayor Young and City staff are extremely active in trying to get the provincial government to recognize how much post-secondary education is now needed in the community. Such an initiative would take 5,000 vehicles off the road each day and also signal a willingness to invest in education in Langford, which continues to grow at a fast pace.
In addition to post-secondary education, Langford is well-positioned for government offices, given that it’s such a growing jurisdiction. Promoting the need for a central location 25 years ago made much more sense, but in today’s electronic and internet world, that requirement has diminished considerably.
“I think spreading out government jobs in the smaller communities where the actual workers are coming from is the biggest opportunity that we have right now for the environment and for the people that are actually raising kids and young families,” says Young.
Almost 75% of the people who move to Langford buy their homes because it’s affordable. That figure is only 30% in Victoria. Young is also mindful of the importance of not falling behind on infrastructure development because it can often be the primary obstacle that prevents economic progress.
“We’ve spent close to $70 million in the last five to six years just building infrastructure for the City of Langford,” Young proudly says.
Langford is run like a well-oiled machine carrying just 62 employees, which is extremely efficient for a community of 40,000 people. It also boasts the second-lowest tax rate out of 13 municipalities in the region. The bottom line is that things get done in Langford.
As a prime example of Langford’s efficiency and ability to cut out the bureaucratic red tape, a developer has been looking to build a project in Vancouver for almost three years, and in that same time he’s built two 140-unit apartment complexes in Langford and is now constructing a third. It’s creating jobs in Langford while the seemingly endless approval processes continue in Vancouver.
“Langford is different – we’re faster,” says Young. “We want those amenities to come in the municipal pockets so that we can actually reinvest that money in our community. That’s how we pay for our recreation, our roads and general improvements. The business community is behind us. We roll out the red carpet for investors and we provide as much affordable housing as we can along with tax breaks.”
Yet another attractive quality about Langford from an entrepreneurial perspective is that there is just a one-time $50 business licence required with no extra taxes or hidden fees. Mayor Young says Langford wants to attract more enterprise – not drive it away. “I want businesses to come here and to thrive. The fact that they are creating employment for the people in our town I am so happy for that. Why would I charge them a fee every year for a business licence?”
Expanding Sports Tourism
By his own admission there wasn’t a lot in the way of sports infrastructure in Langford 20 years ago, but as time went on Mayor Young and City officials began the process of building recreational facilities and to the extent that they were at a high level in order to attract athletes training on a national stage. That in turn has brought increased economic investment.
More than $100 million has been spent on recreational facilities and about $30 million was spent on the state-of-the-art YMCA/YWCA Aquatic Centre, which opened in May 2016. Rugby Canada now trains in Langford as does Golf Canada at Bear Mountain Resort, while Tennis Canada also has a predominant presence. An accommodating climate also works in favour of such outdoor activities.
“It creates a real buzz and a vibe in the community. These are the types of things you want to have and now it’s become a reality,” says Young.
“We’re opening up a new road where the tech park and the city centre park are, up to the top of Bear Mountain and it’s going to be called the Olympic Corridor. There will be banners put up with red flags and will create a nice corridor between our main recreation centre all the way up to Bear Mountain where the other athletes are training with golf, tennis and cycling,” says Young.
Earlier this year a state-of-the-art two-story, 1,900-square-metre rugby training facility was opened thanks to a successful partnership project between the federal government, the City of Langford and private donations. The venue is officially known as the Al Charron Rugby Canada National Training Centre. Considered to be one of the top facilities of its kind anywhere in the world, it will be used by national team members along with other Olympians and international athletes who train in the region.
2020 and Beyond
Mayor Young is quick to credit the City’s economic development committee, which he says has done so much for the community.
“It was the committee that was able to get Rugby Canada to come here and it is that same committee that is really promoting Langford while bringing the politicians and the business community together,” he says. “The Economic Development Committee educates us as politicians to help support and figure out ways to get the economy going and integrating the sports into the master plan.”
In the last five to six years almost $70 million of recreation has been added in Langford. Over the next five years many more projects will be undertaken, including plans for a modernized Westhills Stadium in City Centre Park to 8,000 seats, expanding it from a current capacity of just less than 1,800. The hope is to bring in a top-level soccer league team in the near future. Additional soccer fields and a baseball stadium are also on the drawing board for youth athletics.
The civic business plan is to continue with the development of such winning ticket items as sports tourism, light industrial and transportation. Langford is currently growing at a healthy pace of about 5% per year with as much as $40 million more in additional recreational plans for the near-term future. Families are moving to Langford because there is so much in the way of new infrastructure, including homes, schools, parks, recreational facilities and new sewer lines.
“I want to have people who move out here know that we follow through on our plans,” says Young. “I’m excited about what is to come in the next five years.”