Industrial space squeeze shifts companies, people out of Vancouver

 

Industrial shift

Yours truly beds down each night in an apartment five floors above a popular tea shop, but the ground-floor zoning also permits a brewery and other light manufacturing activities, including a commercial bakery and print shop that flank the local dental office.

It’s what makes Mount Pleasant a dynamic place to be, and challenges notions of the area’s traditional industrial character and amenities (which the C-3A zoning claims to preserve).

It also underscores the challenges facing the Vancouver Economic Commission, which recently released a report pleading the vital importance of industrial land to city life. The report underscores ongoing concerns regarding the depletion of the region’s industrial land base with a particular emphasis on how this could compromise the Vancouver economy. While industrial space is important, the nature of industry is changing and, to steal Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s line regarding agricultural land, protection is not enough. Preservation is possible only through possession (nine-tenths of the law, as the old saying goes), and zoning must allow new uses.

“Protecting is one important tool in the tool box, but we need to do more,” Pietra Basilij, a sustainable community development specialist with the commission and author of the report, told a room of real estate industry representatives and local government reps on June 27. “Protection isn’t working.”

Pitting industrial against other economic sectors “is not particularly helpful from a planning perspective,” Basilij said, because lines between sectors have blurred.

The shift is only going to accelerate, added Steven Fast, principal of the Paradigm Group, who fought for more flexible industrial zoning in the Railtown area last year.

“I agree with their intention,” he said. “The fluidity of this isn’t going to slow down.”

To expand affordable options for occupants of industrial space, Basilij also suggested applying strategies devised to meet demand for housing.

“There may be opportunities to apply some of the tools that we’ve applied to affordable housing to affordable industrial, such as modular, temporary space and applying density bonuses to supporting affordable spaces,” she said.

Residential shift

Part of the Vancouver Economic Commission’s concern over the lack of industrial space in Vancouver is the attendant loss of good-paying jobs that support a diverse local population.

Quite often, industrial space means good jobs for those lacking a post-secondary education, a group that represents half of all industrial workers, Basilij said.

“If we’re looking to support a diversity of employment opportunities within the city, not just those ones that are high-paying for professionals, we also need industrial businesses within the city,” she said.

Yet the squeeze on industrial space means 10% of industrial businesses in Vancouver plan to relocate in the next two years, equating to the loss of 6,000 jobs and a payroll worth $250 million. A further 40% of industrial businesses are thinking about moving by 2020 due to the cost of doing business in the city and the difficulty of finding workers.

Companies leaving Vancouver head for Delta, Surrey and Langley, Basilij said. Census data indicates that these municipalities have a population whose education levels parallel those of the industrial workforce. •

pmitham@telus.net