District of Fort St. James


Situated in the heart of Central British Columbia, the District of Fort St. James is an industrious region home to a rich history and resourceful community.

A steady hub for Canadian forestry, the industry continues to serve as the major economic driver in Fort St. James. While in recent years, sawmill operations and an expansive logging industry have diversified the local economic base. Additionally, this year the district will enter the mining sector, with mineral exploration expected to commerce in late 2013.

Emily Colombo, Economic Development Officer with the District of Fort St. James, spoke with The Canadian Business Journal about the district’s growth and economic diversification, and what continues to make this quaint community a top destination for both people and business.

Business incentives

A variety of intuitive business programs, such as the Community Revitalization Tax Exemption, designates the District of Fort St. James as an attractive base and pro-business environment.

The Community Revitalization Tax Exemption offers business owners a three-year exemption from municipal property tax increases for commercial or light industrial business property upgrading that results in increased property value. Participating in a similar program, the Industrial Tax Exemption, this initiative allowed a local sawmill to invest more than $30 million in property upgrades, highlighting the countless benefits of these successful and attractive tax credit programs.

A secondary program offered by the Northern Development Initiative Trust (NDIT) assists property owners in leveraging these tax exemptions for upfront loans to fund property upgrading projects. A unique economic development measure within Northern British Columbia, interest earned on NDIT investments is then further used to fund and support economic development initiatives across the region, compiled in an online web portal, Invest North Central British Columbia, that links investment opportunities in local communities.

“People are always moving in to start up businesses,” Colombo said. “One example, we have a hotel that sat derelict for many years, and in the last year we’ve had investors from Prince George purchase the building, renovate it and they now intend to re-open it this spring.

“We also have a very reasonable business licensing fee and, because we’re a small town, there are many network support opportunities for business owners.

You know your neighbour and you’re able to help out each other.”

Also of note is the Industry Expansion Program and Competitive Consulting Rebate offered to business and industry. These programs assist in increasing capital investment for local manufacturing businesses pursuing growth initiatives, and in providing the resource sector supply chain with rebates for management consulting expertise in operations expansion.

Mount Milligan mining district

Besides its dominant forestry sector, an entry into the mining sector and mineral exploration has emerged as a BC mining destination. In 2011, more than 10 major mineral exploration projects took place in the district and that is expected to continue this year with copper and gold exploratory efforts.

A short trip north of Fort St. James is Mount Milligan, home to a copper and gold mine. With an estimated 22-year lifespan expected to produce 60,000 mineral tonnes per day, and the province’s first major mining exploration project in more than a decade, the Mount Milligan project is controlled by Thompson Creek Metals Company (NYSE: TC; TSX: TCM). A growing mining company, Thompson Creek Metals has existing operations in the United States and Canada, with its portfolio spanning two molybdenum mines and a standalone metal roasting facility, and holding numerous in-development metals properties.

Mount Milligan, an open pit copper gold mine, is now in its second year of construction with operations expected to begin later this year and full commercial production scheduled for 2014. Assessment of Mount Milligan includes two low-grade copper gold ore bodies .

The Mount Milligan project received its environmental assessment certificate and mines act permit in 2009. The company website reads, “Protecting the environment is a priority for both the local community and the Mount Milligan team. The environmental design of the Mount Milligan project has benefitted from almost 20 years of study. An experienced planning team, an extensive environmental database, ongoing community consultation and a comprehensive closure plan are being used to support the modern mine.”

Community lifestyle

Fort St. James is a charming community for long-term residents and newcomers alike. Picturesque and close knit, Fort St. James provides a neighbourly atmosphere and sense of belonging. Supported by the provincial government, construction of a new multi-purpose community centre will begin this spring; the result further uniting the community.

“Newcomers love the lifestyle here,” Colombo said. “We’re on the shores of beautiful Stuart Lake, there is a ski hill north of town and we’re one of the only two towns in the province where you can ride your snowmobile on the road, so it’s an attractive place for recreation when people come to town.”

Local industry has been a major recruiter of new residents and talent to the district, bringing new doctors and nurses to the local health sector, as one example.

In fact, only a year ago, there was a single physician serving to the entire community. Through a working partnership with regional healthcare provider Northern Health, an additional four full-time doctors now service the community.

“From 2006 to 2011, our population grew by 25 per cent, the second-fastest growing community in all of British Columbia,” Colombo concludes. “We’re bringing newcomers and new business to town, so we’re going through growing pains in a positive way and we’re very excited about what is happening in the community.”