City of Abbotsford
Situated an hour east of Vancouver and the Fraser Valley, the City of Abbotsford, according to Mayor George Peary, is known as the city in the country because it is an urban area surrounded by “Canada’s most productive farmland.”
Agriculture serves as the foundation of the Abbotsford economy, representing more than $1.8 billion annually for the city. Dairy, berries, and poultry are the big players, with more than 1,200 farms in Abbotsford, and production generated from Canada’s richest, most fertile productive land.
Notably, agriculture remains the major industry sector serving the community, with plenty of economic activity in food processing, dairy, chickens, turkeys, horticulture, and a berry industry that covers hundreds of acres of raspberries and blueberries. Abbotsford truly is an attractive place to not only live, but visit, play, and learn.
Ken Bearg, Economic Development Manager for the City of Abbotsford, feels this combination of attractions draws newcomers to the city.
“Certainly there is the quality of life factor,” Bearg said. “A 2009 survey by Ipsos-Reid showed that 95 per cent of residents said Abbotsford is a good or very good place to be, so you can’t have better branding than your own residents.”
Transformation from agriculture to industrial
“We’ve added roughly 260,000 acres of industrially developed land,” Bearg said. “It will be re-zoned industrial so that represents economic diversification.”
Abbotsford presents a theme of growth, and not only in terms of a population spike, one that has climbed substantially over the years, now of almost 140,000 people. The nearby University of the Fraser Valley has grown and now is of oversubscribed status, with students attending not only from across the province, but around the world.
“A number of years ago we made the case to the land commission [controlling the farmlands] that we needed some land for industry because we want to build a complete community. We don’t want people just residing here; we want them to be able to work here,” Peary said.
Also home to Abbotsford is its international airport, originally finished in 1944, but that fell into a state of disparity after the Second World War. The City of Abbotsford acquired the airport from the federal government in 1996–at a mere cost of $10—something Peary notes as “the best investment Abbotsford ever made.”
“There have been all sorts of dramatic improvements of late, so it’s basically a complete retrofitting of the terminal. It feels like a new airport,” said Bearg, adding that the airport accommodates more than 500,000 passengers annually, hoping to continue gaining traction in the future for more international flights.
“Building the aerospace sector is critical to our economy. It has become a regional hub for the Fraser Valley with the extreme population growth that we are anticipating.”
“We are in the midst of a mini boom here. A 100,000 square foot shopping centre just opened, and there is a 560,000 square foot shopping centre under construction on our western boundary,” Peary beamed. “There is a sense of optimism in the community. Private sector investment is now flowing in here and making things happen, so there are opportunities for employment.”
Bearg believes the shopping centre development is a “game changer” for the west end of the city, as recent development in Abbotsford has migrated toward the east and south. “It really is a vital commercial addition to the west side of town. Commercial capacity in general is expanding to meet the growing population. Developers are looking at our region and saying, ‘This is a good place to set up shop.’”
Hockey welcomed to Abbotsford
No Canadian city would be complete without a passion for the country’s favourite frozen pastime. In 2009, the city opened the Abbotsford Entertainment & Sports Centre as the new home to the relocated Abbotsford Heat, American Hockey League affiliate of the NHL’s Calgary Flames. With seating for 7,000, the facility hosts not only professional hockey, but has seen a variety of concerts and entertainment as well, creating about $10 million in economic spinoff for Abbotsford. The new facility has been a success for the city, something it hopes to build upon in the future.
Like all municipalities in British Columbia, Abbotsford is “buying into the green theme”, according to Mayor Peary, with initiatives to reduce its carbon footprint, actively engaged in a series of projects with the goal to become more efficient and to consume less power. With some concern for the air quality in the Fraser Valley, a major initiative has seen the conversion from diesel to natural gas, having a huge effect locally. Local mountains have been preserved as green space, offering trails for hiking, mountain biking, and simply enjoying the outdoors.
“I think we are setting ourselves up for a decade of prosperity,” Peary summarized. “We can consolidate what we have and draw to our strengths as a city so I am optimistic. As these industrial acres develop, the sector will come here and hire local employees and that will multiple throughout the economy.”