If other predictions come true

The last several federal censuses show how Prince George is an island onto itself in the Central Interior.

While the city's population growth has been small or flat, the surrounding communities have been steadily declining in numbers, as the forestry and resource development sectors have gone through significant changes.

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The only rural locations outside of Prince George seeing sustained population growth has been in First Nations communities.

As the regional hub, Prince George has been significantly shielded from the decline of the neighbouring small towns. Prince George is blessed with a regional hospital, a university, a college, a refinery and an airport, along with service centres for the federal and provincial governments and the head offices for the regional district and Northern Health.

Combine that with the headquarters for numerous private sector companies that provide goods and services to clients throughout the region, as well as in the Southern Interior, Vancouver and out of province and country.

Add in the pull on area residents to come to Prince George to shop at WalMart, Costco and other stores not available in outlying communities. Factor in special events in Prince George, like this weekend's Cariboo Rocks The North, drawing residents from several hundred kilometres in every direction.

Long gone are the days when what's good for Prince George is also good for our rural neighbours.

That outdated notion is as ridiculous as what's good for Vancouver is also good for Prince George.

Area residents coming to Prince George for post-secondary education, specialized health care or to see their favourite classic rock band in concert is easier than having to go to Vancouver but it still means having to leave their communities.

Not only is Prince George a smart choice to live for Central Interior residents who want to remain in the region while having easy access to urban amenities, it is an alluring destination for residents of Kelowna, Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton looking to escape their lengthy commutes and crazy home prices for a more laidback lifestyle and cheaper cost of living while making only moderate sacrifices on weather and amenities.

Prince George is especially attractive to young families and retired with its affordability, professional opportunities and arts and culture offerings.

While the curtailments and closures in the forest sector affect Prince George and local residents, the impact is far less than it is with our neighbours, where the question isn't so much how the community will cope but how will the community survive.

The three pulp mills are an essential part of the local economy but a production slowdown is a minor blip.

The unemployment rate remains low, the construction sector is booming, and real estate is steady, both in prices and sales, while many business owners remain optimistic, not just in words but in their decisions to hire staff and expand operations.

A potential $5.6 billion petrochemical plant, along with a new LNG pipeline and shipping facility in Kitimat, bode well for the city's future.

Yet Prince George shouldn't get too comfortable as there are looming clouds on the horizon.

The city, like the province and the country, is aging rapidly and faces a huge challenge over the next 10 years as the bulk of the baby boomers retire. Prince George has not seen enough growth among the number of young professionals to fill all of those vacant positions in both the private and public sector.

Has local government prepared for the number of homeowners claiming the seniors discount on their city taxes?

And if UHNBC has to put patients in the hallways now due to overcrowding, what will happen over the next five to 10 years?

The predictions about a significant decrease in forest sector activity across B.C. have come true but Prince George hasn't been too hard hit yet.

If the predictions about the effects of the retirement of the baby boomers also come to pass, Prince George might not be so fortunate.

-- Editor-in-chief Neil Godbout

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