High-Tech, Business Development and Dealing with the Strip
In part two of our interview with Mayor Linda Hepner at the half-way point of her mandate. We see the leader of BC’s second largest city, fostering a supportive environment for high technology institutions and companies to build a city for the now and the future. Surrey is committed to the sustainable highroad while ensuring a lifestyle safe and secure for the highly diverse population that lives, works and plays here, while attending to the people caught up in the social needs and challenges of a big city.
Ray Hudson: Innovation Boulevard described as “an agile partnership of health, business, higher education and government creating new health technologies to improve peoples’ lives” seems to be extremely successful. So much so that the city and its partners are expanding the high-tech programs and projects beyond the original vision, into the age of mechatronics engineering, development of high tech buildings and a new term, ‘Cleantech.’ Tell us more?
Mayor Hepner: I’m pretty proud of the Innovation Boulevard concept, and we’re doing so well we actually Trade Marked the name. It’s not only the health and technology sectors which are doing incredibly well. I believe The Lark Group’s second of their high tech buildings, in a high tech campus, is underway, as is the innovative developers of the WestStone Group which is doing significant building in that sector.
We have CAPSU (the Child & Adolescent Psychiatric Stabilization Unit) opening at Surrey Memorial Hospital and the John Volken Foundation in Newton which funds several nonprofit enterprises, including Welcome Home Addiction Recovery Academy, PricePro, and Lift The Children. Several years ago the city of Surrey committed $500,000 to hire a Chair of Mental Health. That person is now in place and she will be actively working with John Volken through Simon Fraser University Surrey. All of those pieces are really moving along well.
We’ve got a lot going on in Newton, as well as the John Volken Academy, Newton has the only western Canada agency of Foresight Technologies (FT) which operates a Cleantech Accelerator Centre. Their purpose is incubating cleantech businesses, which to date has something in the neighbourhood of forty incubating businesses. It has become a real economic engine. As part of the project, we’re also working with Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Cloverdale campus on advancing their (FT) activities to move into advanced manufacturing. So those are all initiatives that are under the umbrella of the international award and recognition as a ‘Smart City.’
There’s a lot going on. And you will learn more when I roll out a brand new Investment Economic Development Policy over the next couple of months.
Ray Hudson: Campbell Heights industrial park is one of the most successful developments areas in the south east corner of the city. Tell us how that development is doing?
Mayor Hepner: I consider Campbell Heights my baby, because when I was a staff member, we were just getting it off the ground. We worked hard trying to find some investors who would partner with us to make the project possible. When it started out the price per acre was about $300,000, and now it’s over $1 million per acre. I just shake my head. Campbell Heights sells out really quickly and it’s almost gone. We have a few last properties before we’re going to have to open up more.
There are other people who have holdings there including the federal government, so we’re looking at the opportunities where we can utilize other lands there because as I said, we’ve almost sold out of our five stages. I consider that one of my personal legacies.
Ray Hudson: The city continues to grow at roughly a thousand people per month. How can we continue to manage this influx?
Mayor Hepner: Without the transportation system, it’s going to be incredibly difficult. That’s why I’ve been pushing so hard for the LRT, why I’m so focused on it. You cannot build a city to size and not be connected.
Another problem is housing and poverty, so finding ways of ensuring that we have sufficient affordable housing is necessary.
We have to keep working to resolve the “Whalley Strip” where there’s another vulnerable population, many with mental health and addiction issues. We need both, an immediate shelter and transitional housing. If the people on the strip are going to become well, we have to transition them into housing, and that’s what the city is doing. We’ve already approved a project in the area of the Jim Pattison Outpatient Centre, and we’ve almost finished the design phase.
I also need other options of both affordable rent and market rent, and I’m not alone in that. All the big cities need it, and all the members of the Big Cities Table are talking continuously with the Prime Minister about a National Housing strategy. We have asked for about $12 billion over a period of eight years, to be assigned for incentives for housing across the country. I’m hearing, fairly strongly, not to expect the budget will give us quite what we’re looking for, but I have heard that they’ve got the message and will be providing something on the national housing front. I preface my comments with that because I intend on doing something around incentives for rentals, but I’m not going to say what that is until I know where this money could potentially lead us, and what those incentives are. When I have a clearer picture, I’m going to add to it and provide more rental housing in this city.
About four years ago, Surrey was at a 4% vacancy and today we’re at 0.4% so you can imagine how much more difficult it is for people who may start out in Vancouver as young techie ‘love-the-downtown-lifestyle’ Yaletowners. At some point they get married and have children, and need to push out of the downtown looking for green space, arenas, parks, schools and so on. Surrey is the most desirable location, so it’s important for me to keep going because that’s what I think our future looks like. If we can get those young people out here they’ll stay. Next, they’ll be moving their businesses here because their kids are here and they’ll want to be closer to them.
Ray Hudson: How about the socio-cultural side of the city?
Mayor Hepner: I think it’s really important to acknowledge that this is Canada’s 150th Anniversary, and we have lots of events planned for Surrey, to celebrate. I think the way the world is today, having those events that bring us all a little bit closer together are going to take on an even greater level of significance. At this moment, I can only say ‘stay tuned’ because I’ll be announcing some of the Headliners for some of the events, in the next couple of weeks. That’s on the fun side!
On the not-so-fun side, the vulnerable side, I am really encouraged by the world of the twelve-member dedicated Surrey Outreach Team we put together over Christmas. It involves the RCMP, Fraser Health, Lookout, our Bylaw department and some of the other divisions of the city.
We’re already seeing some early successes to get some of the people who have just come onto “the strip” off right away and into housing. We’ve got BC Housing at the table as well, so at one bed at a time, we are actually making a difference. The number of people on the strip, which started in the forties, has come down as we’ve got those people more open to trusting due to the Outreach people who are creating direct relationships. This makes it easier to see who needs what. You get to know this person who has addiction issues. We had a young pregnant woman that we helped into housing off the strip.
It’s not an easy fix. To work, it has to be an individualized plan, but I think we’re onto something with this dedicated team. I’m encouraged by what I’m seeing.