I have now been in Kelowna for almost a year and I must admit it is a city of dichotomy. I would like to say it is a tale of two cities but in actuality it is a tale of many cities. Kelowna is no longer the sleepy town my parents use to bring us to camp in so many summers ago. Nor is Kelowna just a mecca for the retirement although that is still a contributing factor to the economy. After all retirement and tourism have been the main drivers of the economy in Kelowna for more years than many people like to believe.
However retirement is looking very different. Kelowna now has two generations of retirement and that has really changed the dynamics. There are the 80+ who retired here 20 to 30 years ago and then there are the 55+ who have been arriving over the last 10 years. Both groups have different retirement needs and desires. This has changed the economic and services needs of the community. That 55+ segment of the retirees want more activities and meeting that need has inadvertently created an environment that a different demographic is seeking.
This new image of what Kelowna looks like is attractive to a new, younger generation of urbanites. The days of Kelowna being a mecca for retirement and tourism, although still here, are not the only driving forces now. There is a third and new set of demographics. That is the 25+ year old and they are building their own version of Kelowna. After all Kelowna is a beautiful place to live and offers a wide range of life styles. And even more important “affordable” life styles.
Many of these new arrivals are singles who either attended the university or college in Kelowna and fell in love in the life style so either stayed or returned. Others are young families who have opted out of the heavy costs of Calgary or Vancouver but still want the activities of those large centre. Everything they need is here and within an easy drive to either of these other major centres. Many also realize their parents may well end up retiring here anyway so they are getting the jump on them.
The schools are here, a majorly renovated hospital, recreation, cultural events, sporting events, night life, winter skiing (and they don’t have to drive to Whistler or Banff) and summer beaches. But even more important, more affordable housing than they will ever find in Calgary or Vancouver. Kelowna has become a magnet for young families.
Kelowna is no longer a place where the 20 year old can’t wait to get away from. And when they do leave most inevitably return. If they head for the oil patch they come back to relax. If they head for Vancouver they come back because they can afford Kelowna. It’s not until they are exposed to the costs of these centres or the hard life style of the oil patch that they recognize the benefits of Kelowna. I don’t think anybody ever thinks where they grew up was where they wanted to stay. It’s in our nature to explore but most of us return to where our roots are. And Kelowna is no longer that “town” they grew up in. It’s become a vibrant, growing and impressive central Okanagan city. There is affordable opportunity here and many want to capitalize on that.
There is still retirement, there is still tourism but there is now so much more. This new growth is changing the economy, the politics of the region, the outlook of people and the rest of the countries impression of what Kelowna is becoming. The vineyards, the wineries, the skiing, the tourism, the eco, and so much more is bringing international attention to Kelowna. That can be attributed to the Internet and social media. The tools of the new Kelowna.
So sit back while following my observations on the dynamics and growth of Kelowna. More to come!
Basking in the Kelowna sun!