Industrial, infrastructure projects energizing Okanagan outlook

Okanagan boom

A quick glance at the latest edition of the province’s major projects inventory indicates that the Thompson Okanagan region hosts 110 major projects – those worth $15 million or more – with an aggregate value of $22.8 billion.

Of these, more than 59 projects representing the lion’s share of the value – $14.7 billion, or 65% – are under construction. Many are long-term projects, however: residential and resort developments with completion dates running through 2040. When those two groups are factored out, $3 billion remains – primarily infrastructure and institutional projects such as the new RCMP detachment in Kelowna, the correctional centre at the Osoyoos Indian Band Development Corp.’s Senkulmen Enterprise Park in Oliver, hospital expansions from Kamloops to Penticton, and expansions at Okanagan College and Thompson Rivers University.

“The Okanagan is probably busier than it’s been in years,” said Bill Everitt, chief operating officer of the Southern Interior Construction Association, which focuses on industrial, commercial and institutional projects.

Besides the large projects, many of which have benefited from infusions of public infrastructure dollars, a number of smaller projects are keeping contractors busy.

“The private sector has also been robust with several new wineries and commercial spaces,” Everitt said.

The outlook remains bright, if building permits are any indication.

Building permit volumes in the Thompson Okanagan have increased to $1.3 billion in 2015 from $897.6 million in 2011. This year, permit issuances rose 35.8% through August versus the same period a year ago to reach $1.1 billion.

One drawback to the growth, Everitt said, is that it’s been primarily focused in the central and south Okanagan. In particular, the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen has outstripped other parts of the region with 130% growth in issuances between January and August, trumping the healthy 53% growth logged between 2011 and 2015.

Drive-by sightings

Driving through the Okanagan from Armstrong to Osoyoos last week, the shape of development was clear. While residential permits continue to underpin growth, commercial and industrial projects are taking shape at a rate not seen in years.

The sight of steady development at Pier Mac Petroleum Installation Ltd.’s Airport Business Park in Kelowna – which has just one lot left to sell in its first phase – was followed by signage touting the 30-acre “innovation precinct” planned for the campus of the University of British Columbia Okanagan. Delta-based Avcorp Industries Inc. is the inaugural partner for the industrial research and development hub, which aims to “positively influence” a local economy already going strong.

Farther south, Penticton Indian Band Development Corp. is moving forward with Satikw Crossing on land adjacent to the channel that runs through the lakeside city. The project, facilitated by an $8 million bridge that opened earlier this year, could see 140 acres developed with commercial, industrial and residential uses in the coming years. All told, the Penticton Indian Band anticipates the completion of $100 million worth of capital projects on its land in the next decade.

Meanwhile, in Okanagan Falls, development was proceeding on an expansion of Unit Electrical Engineering Ltd.’s manufacturing premises while forays into the surrounding hills showed that significant investments are also occurring in wineries and associated projects.

Drawing them in

The economic activity is a boost for residential projects such as Skaha Hills, the joint venture between the Penticton Indian Band and Greyback Developments Ltd., as well as Mission Group, which is developing residences at both UBC Okanagan and in downtown Kelowna. Mission Group’s downtown project, Central Green, is attracting professionals affiliated with the recently expanded Kelowna General Hospital and the renewal of the city’s downtown core.

A similar vibe is animating Penticton, where 65 homes are being developed at Skaha Hills and a further 50 have completed. The project is now in the third phase of development, steadily moving toward a total of 600 residences on the 550-acre property overlooking Skaha Lake. 

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