Advice for B.C. cities trying to entice Vancouverites northward: become 'Vancouver Lite'

Northern British Columbian cities are well-positioned to attract people tired of living in Metro Vancouver says a place-based marketing expert, but they need to put their best face forward.

Fear of a lack of culture one of the main reasons people hesitant to leave Metro Vancouver, says marketer

The Move Up Prince George campaign entices people to come north with promises of affordable housing and new opportunities. (Move Up Prince George)

A "place-based" marketer says campaigns from Prince George and Quesnel aimed at enticing Vancouverites northward are "a brilliant idea."

"Now's the time to be doing this," said Tom Gierasimczuk of Resonance Consultancy. 

For the next ten, twenty years British Columbian cities are going to be in a battle for talent.- Tom Gierasimczuk

"For the next 10, 20 years British Columbian cities are going to be in a battle for talent as well as in a battle for tax base."

Move Up Prince George was launched in 2014 in order to attract more professionals to the city. In a four minute YouTube clip, new residents extol the wisdom of coming north.

"I found my dream job here," says one.

"I have no reason to leave this town," says another.

The campaign has helped attract multiple people to the city, according to economic development officer Melissa Barcellos, though she admits the results so far are anecdotal.

"We're working on a new process so we can count those numbers and have some better reporting metrics," she said.

She'll soon have competition. One hundred and twenty kilometres south, the City of Quesnel is embarking on a re-branding campaign in an effort to entice people fed up with the cost of living in Vancouver to look northward. 

People are struggling with the affordability issue.- Bob Simpson

"I think part of the issue for the north is that we're not speaking to that change that's occurring in the Lower Mainland right through the Okanagan," said Mayor Bob Simpson. 

"People are struggling with the affordability issue. They're struggling with an unbalanced lifestyle... We've got a story to tell where all of that is accessible." 

The City of Quesnel has commissioned a new brand in an effort to attract new residents to the central Interior town. (City of Quesnel)

Vancouverites thinking of leaving, but not for northern B.C.

Gierasimczuk has numbers to back Simpson up.

Resonance recently published a report on the future of housing in British Columbia that estimated that 34 per cent of Metro Vancouver homeowners plan to sell and move to another market in the next five years.

That doesn't mean an automatic boon for cheaper markets up north, though.

The report also found the region is usually the last choice for relocating Metro Vancouver residents, and that for millennials a different province or even country is more desirable than heading north of Hope.

Resonance found that Northern B.C. is often the last choice for people thinking about leaving Metro Vancouver for another part of the province. (Resonance Co.)

"They want the excitement, they want that density that only happens in cities," explained Gierasimczuk.

"But Vancouver's making it incredibly difficult for people to stay, no matter how much they love it."

In order to make themselves more enticing he recommends "second-tier" B.C. cities like Prince George and Nelson position themselves as a "Vancouver-lite" by highlighting features like universities and cultural events people in the Lower Mainland are hesitant to give up. 

Gierasimczuk says northern communities should focus marketing efforts on Gen-Xers who are more likely to make living decisions based on wanting to raise a family. (Resonance Co.)

"They've got to curtail the fear of lack of culture," he explained, "Saying we've got a theatre, we've got jobs, we've got a university, we've got good schools, and we got a house for under three-hundred grand."

Gierasimczuk also recommended focusing on older generations, particularly Gen-Xers who are "leading the charge" in leaving Vancouver.

"You're looking at people who are professionally comfortable in what they're doing. They can or they feel confident that they can work from home and they want their kids to have space. They want to have a yard," he said.

When asked about numbers indicating the lack of job growth in areas outside Vancouver, Gierasimczuk said the key is for other regions to entice entrepreneurs and tech startups to take their business northward, as well.

"Now is the absolute opportune time for cities like Prince George to say, 'You know what? We're actually a city too. We're still in B.C. and we actually offer a lot of good value.'"


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About the Author

Andrew Kurjata

@akurjata

Andrew Kurjata is a radio producer and digital journalist in northern British Columbia, situated in the traditional territory of the Lheidli T'enneh in Prince George.