Twenty new businesses have opened in the Valley so far this year. People are investing in Port Alberni and Mayor Mike Ruttan says it’s the locals who are doing it.
“Right now the investments that are occurring are investments that are being made from local people, or local groups, which is a really good sign because it indicates to all of us that there’s a real positive perception of the future of Port Alberni,” Ruttan said.
These local investments, Ruttan said, provide the city with a lot of value because “there’s going to be a tremendous commitment to making sure those investments bear fruit.”
Aside from new businesses Port Alberni has seen a variety of investments made in recent years throughout the region.
Looking towards the future and thinking long term are goals of the city’s which Ruttan said they are tackling by investing in economic opportunities in Port Alberni.
“Our major economic concern is that we create jobs and we create jobs that are going to be around for a while, complimentary to the people who live here,” Ruttan said.
“The diversification of the economy is really, really critical for us as a community. The greater we diversify, the better chance we have to withstand all sorts of pressures that occur economically beyond our valley. That’s why the investment in the airport is really critical.”
A $4.2 million expansion project is underway at the Alberni Valley Regional Airport, contracted to Bowerman Excavating who began work in early May.
The new expansions will extend the length of the runway from 3,952 by 75 feet to 5,000 by 100 feet. The length will be gained by extending the runway to the east.
“We have large corporations with significant assets, significant investments in Port Alberni and in the area around Port Alberni and because as a community we’ve invested in the airport they see that as a positive sign on the part of the community for future growth and opportunity and so they’re looking and thinking what other investments can we make,” Ruttan said.
Once the expansions are finished, which is estimated to be by the end of October, Pat Deakin, economic development manager with the City of Port Alberni believes it will attract further attention from aerospace businesses from around the world.
“I think once the airport is finished and we put the GPS system in there and it gets gazetted and published, that’s when it will really help bring it to the attention of the aerospace industry and others that are working in the area. We are getting inquiries from companies that are mostly so far connected to the Coulson Group,” Deakin said.
More recently the city announced plans to sell plywood lots A and B to the parent company of Canadian Alberni Engineering for $250,000. Lots A and B are located on the Alberni Inlet waterfront next to Canal Beach, formally known as lot C and to the south of Western Forest Products’ Alberni Pacific Division sawmill. This transaction provoked controversy from local residents who felt that there was no public consultation prior to the sale and that the land could have been used for more recreational waterfront space.
Ruttan said the decision to sell the plywood lots was an important decision to ensure a promise of future jobs.
“We didn’t just decide one week that we were going to sell it and announce it the next, it’s a sale that we’ve been working on for a year,” Ruttan said. “You can’t talk about the sale until you’ve come to an agreement because otherwise you potentially could scuttle the sale, so that’s why any discussion related to property, to employment or legal matters are kept in camera and every city in Canada does the same thing.”
The sale, Ruttan believes, was in the best interest of the community and a valuable investment in future employment that the land promises.
“It’s for the diversification of our economy,” Ruttan said.
Although now with the addition of another industrial facility on the waterfront, Ruttan still believes the balance of recreational and industrial investments on the shoreline of Port Alberni’s harbour are admirable.
“I think in many ways what’s going on in our harbour is an envy of many other communities,” he said. “Often when I speak to businesses they will say we really admire Port Alberni that it chose to keep its industrial land because it means that you welcome people who want to use the harbour for recreational purposes but you also value the industrial heritage.”
In 1860, Port Alberni saw the first sawmill in British Columbia, located at the mouth of the Somass River, which began significant economic activity that continues to this day.
Ruttan says balancing both recreation and industry on our waterfront is an important facet in harmonizing the community and creating equal opportunities for those who live, work and vacation in the Valley.
“Many of the attributes of our community that attract people revolve around the water. The kite boarding, the stand-up paddle boarding, canoeing, kayaking, swimming and fishing. Water is highly attractive to people,” Ruttan said. “We don’t want to drive anybody away.”
Heading away from the waterfront, up the road a few blocks from the Harbour Quay, construction continues on another recent investment in the Valley.
The Uchucklesaht Tribe have invested about $9 million into a new cultural and administration building on the corner of Kingsway Avenue and Argyle Street.
“A lot of it is government offices for [the Uchucklesaht tribe] but it’s also cultural space and it’s commercial space and it’s residential space. It’s a really exciting project and it is going to be a signature building for our community once it’s opened,” Ruttan said.
Port Alberni has a diverse economy with about 8,000 people employed in various occupations throughout the city. The largest employers at this time, according the City of Port Alberni’s community profile, are Vancouver Island Health Authority, Western Forest Products, School District 70, Catalyst Paper, Wal-Mart, Coulson Group and the City of Port Alberni.
“Every job is important so I have to focus on every opportunity,” Ruttan said. “I don’t care what we were in 1969…what I care about is what are we doing with what we have now, how do we see our future.”