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B.C. Jobs Plan bodes well for Chilliwack: Jobs Minister Pat Bell

Chilliwack is home to two of the economic sectors identified by the B.C. government in its strategy to create jobs.
B.C. Jobs Minister Pat Bell talked about the province's job-creation strategy at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast in Chilliwack Wednesday

International education, agriculture and the aerospace industry are among the eight economic sectors the B.C. government is focusing on it its job-creation plan.

And B.C. Jobs Minister Pat Bell says the three sectors are each strong economic cards held by Chilliwack and other Fraser Valley communities.

"Chilliwack will benefit from the jobs plan," Bell told a Chamber of Commerce breakfast audience Wednesday.

He said the B.C. Jobs Plan, modeled on B.C.'s successful initiative to increase lumber exports to China, identifies eight economic sectors in which the province has "a significant advantage that will allow us to out-compete other jurisdictions."

He said there is a "very compelling business case" for the B.C. government to promote international education, which has brought some 90,000 international students to the province.

Those students have created 22,000 jobs in B.C. with an economic value of $1.5 billion, he said.

Smaller regional universities in B.C., like the University of the Fraser Valley, which has campuses in Chilliwack and Abbotsford, will be promoted by "education specialists" being hired at each of B.C.'s international offices, most of those located in Asia, he said.

UFV president Mark Evered, who attended the breakfast meeting, said he would "love to bring more international students to Chilliwack," but at the moment the university doesn't have enough space for them.

"For us to take on additional students, domestic or international, is a challenge for us," he said.

But Evered said he was "delighted" by Bell's comments about the government's interest in linking education to business, a strong card in UFV's "unique" blend of academic and business training in its degree programs.

Bell said the jobs strategy includes a "voucher program" that provides up to $50,000 in grants to research students who partner with a B.C. company.

However, to date, UFV has not been included in the voucher program because it is not a research university, like UBC, something Evered would like to see changed.

Bell said UFV is a "world leader in aerospace training" at its Abbotsford campus, which the education specialists will be promoting at the international offices.

Bell said every four international students equal one full-time job, which can have an enormous impact on local economies.

One thousand international students attend UFV each year.

Bell said agriculture is a "less apparent" ace in B.C.'s economic hand, but he pointed out there is a "huge appetite" in China for fresh farm produce and berries — both specialties of Fraser Valley farms.

The other sectors in the plan are forestry, mining, natural gas, technology, tourism and transportation.

Bell said job-creation numbers in B.C. are "fluctuating," but so far the province is in third place behind Ontario and Alberta, which leads the nation spurred by its oil fields.

But Bell said he believes B.C. has entered "a pivotal time" in its history, not without risk but also full of "enormous opportunity."

"If we can effectively deliver on our strategic plan ... I think B.C. can be very successful," he said. "I think we're on the right track."