Three hours north of Victoria, BC’s provincial capital, sits Campbell River — Vancouver Island’s third-largest city. It boasts spectacular natural beauty, blending ocean and mountain scenery, and is known as the Salmon Capital of the World, where fish jumping out of the water isn’t surprising. The community is now seeing a renaissance — attracting new businesses and young professionals who are drawn to its charm.

It wasn’t always this way. Nearly a decade ago, the city was challenged by the closure of the Elk Falls mill site, which employed more than 1,100 people at its peak and supported many ancillary businesses. “We had to change,” says the city’s mayor, Andy Adams. “Campbell River is not what it was decades ago. We have a vibrant arts and culture community and emerging food scene, and with the amenities and lifestyle the region offers, people can have a great work-life balance.”

Casting for new business pays off

With the goal of attracting new business and investment, the city modernized its business tax rate by making it more favourable. A plan to revitalize the downtown and attract anchor tenants by offering a five-year tax break for new investment has paid off. Seymour Pacific, a development company with interests across Western Canada, built a $17 million head office in Campbell River, prompting others to set up shop in the city. In fact, over the past six years, more than $100 million worth of investments have been made in the city’s downtown. “These businesses employ people, which contributes to the economic health of our community,” says Adams. “It’s exciting to see the city diversify from its past reliance on the resource sector.”

The city also invested in beautification projects, where streets could be closed off to vehicles and host public events, such as concerts and movie screenings. The idea was to enhance the community not only for those who lived in the city but also for visitors. “If people go downtown and find a lively and entertaining environment, they are more likely to want to return,” says Adams.

Five years ago, an organization called the Young Professionals of Campbell River established themselves as the new face of business in the city. Young families are discovering Campbell River as a place where you can have an excellent career and a great lifestyle — with affordable housing and a short work commute, while still remaining close to outdoor recreation. It’s also easy to connect by air to Vancouver, Calgary, and Edmonton. In fact, some medical specialists now live in Campbell River and commute a few days a week to work in Vancouver.

Investing in tech

If the city was to be successful in diversifying its businesses, it had to look at the infrastructure needs for technology-based companies, such as virtual reality and gaming. “We knew we needed to build some infrastructure,” says Adams. “What we heard was that small and medium-sized communities didn’t have the broadband technology required to support tech companies that employed 100–300 employees.” There were only a few other communities in BC, aside from Vancouver and Victoria, that had a competitive rate structure for broadband, so Campbell River set about developing its own fibre-optic network CRadvantage. The first phase, a loop in the downtown core, recently launched, with five buildings connected to the network.

“This means when we are marketing to tech companies, we not only have the lifestyle advantage, but we also have the technology infrastructure to go along with it,” says Adams. “We’re looking at companies in Victoria, Vancouver, and even Seattle, and making a pitch to them that they should set up a satellite office in Campbell River.” As a city where you can love where you work and play, this isn't a hard pitch.