Initiatives Prince George wants to add a digit to the population sign at the crossroads of the city.
It is IPG's stated goal to hit a population mark of 100,000 people by 2023. According to IPG boss Heather Oland, this is a loose goal both for date and head count but it is a working target.
"It is a great threshold," Oland said. "It's an anecdotal figure, but it is based on labour market information, long range planning done by the city, and it is an inspirational goal as well. It is hard to achieve anything if you don't set a mark to strive for, so we are building a goal around this. It is what the city needs to succeed on so many levels, it is a big part of IPG's core mandate, and it is both challenging and achievable."
Other officials agree, based on the list of major industrial projects slated for the region.
"Even if they don't all happen, many of them will," said Ian Wells, the manager of planning and real estate for the City of Prince George. "The challenge is getting them to choose Prince George to live, base their families, because Prince George will naturally be a base of operations for a lot of these projects."
There is also another reason for pushing towards the 100,000 number, said Wells.
"A population of 100,000 will drive different economic dynamics for the area - retail, hotels, commercial services of every kind - and it would allow local businesses to grow, to attract more employees and obviously more customers too."
"The site selector world opens up to you at 100,000," said Oland, meaning many large retailers and other service companies have a formula for where to place their next office or store locations.
"There isn't an industry standard, but there is a process of evaluating your next moves for growing your company," agreed Kyle Shury, who announced in Tuesday's Citizen that his company, Plat:form Properties, would be building the city's next shopping centre on a vacant Highway 16 West lot. The same company owns retail and residential complexes in other parts of B.C. and Alberta.
"Every retailer has its own thresholds, but they look at main trade areas and secondary trade areas, and that number of people - 100,000 - would be a positive level for Prince George," he said. "Once you go above 80-85 k people you do attract the attention of a higher level of retailer, and if all that potential is realized, with the industrial activities proposed for the north and Prince George acting as the hub of the north, you will get a lot more interest from the retail sector."
"Often those are anchor businesses that would have a lot of economic spinoff of their own if they did locate here," said Prince George Chamber of Commerce CEO Jennifer Brandle-McCall. "The thing I find worrisome is, yes there is a recognition that we need to attract workers to the region, but we have to address the entire family. The spouse has to feel good about being here; the kids have to be happy about being here. We have to capture the positivity of the whole family.
"We need a formal on-boarding program so connections can be made quickly, so that concerns are dealt with positively, so that everyone feels welcomed, and there are as few reasons as possible to ever want to leave," said Brandle-McCall, who moved here from Vancouver Island with her family about eight years ago. "Right now that is happening by luck, and it helps that the people in Prince George are generally very kind and considerate, but I believe it should be formalized so that nobody falls between the cracks."
IPG is spending a lot of its time fostering relationships between the major incoming companies and the local businesses best suited to help them. The more that local companies can plug into subcontract work, selling goods and providing services, the more that major corporate money stays in this area and in the pockets of local spenders.
"The other element is marketing our city to the rest of Canada - promoting our city as the rising star jewel of British Columbia," said Oland. "We are already well underway. This city has a history of spotting opportunities to better itself, then working towards that. The list of those achievements is impressive. There are few communities of 100,000 people that can list off all the amenities and successes that Prince George can at less than 80,000."
More civic foresight is working in the mission's favour, in the form of city infrastructure. According to Wells, previous city planners and councils saw fit to build the overall capacity to the level of 150,000 people before any new major upgrades are needed. Wells also said initiatives like the downtown development tax abatement is in place as further incentive for businesses to capitalize on those built-in features.
"We have enough land, we have the zoning in place, the services are ready to go," said Wells. "The city has great amenities - the university, the hospital, the sports facilities, the shopping facilities, and arts and culture community - so it's a matter of getting the message out and that is largely up to IPG."
In the nearly 100 years of Prince George, population bursts have happened when a new sawmill opened or a new pulp mill opened, and perhaps the university's establishment was responsible for the historic 1996-97 peak of 80,000 people. Now, said Oland, "population fluctuations are incremental and based on a number of economic factors."
The 2011 census figures showed the citys population at 71,974 in 2011 and 70,981 in 2006. Now, said Oland, indications are that it is back up to almost 80,000 again. It contracted and rebounded on the waves of many industrial ups and downs, no one major thrust in either direction. If almost 10,000 new people can come to the city in the past few years almost unnoticed, the industrial activity waves over the next decade should be realistically able to bring 20,000 more, said Oland, but only if there is a dedicated effort.