Opinion: Where the smart money should be

One of Chilliwack's biggest potentials for economic success is in education. So why aren't the candidates talking about it?

Brian McKenna

Chilliwack council candidates were asked last week what they would do to encourage economic growth in the community.

Their responses were interesting. (You can find them in our Q&A section under the Election 2014 tab.)

But what was more interesting was what they didn’t say.

None of the 17 candidates mentioned education as a potential economic driver for Chilliwack.

That’s curious because a knowledge-based economy offers high-paying careers, it’s clean, and it delivers a multitude of spinoff benefits.

And, we’ve got a head start.

Chilliwack is home to Canada Education Park – a sprawling 200-acre campus that already has some pretty impressive tenants.

The University of the Fraser Valley, the Justice Institute of BC, Canada Border Services and the RCMP all have a home there.

But the park is far from complete. UFV alone has a 30-year buildout plan that will eventually bring 7,000 full-time equivalent students to Chilliwack. That’s a 350 per cent increase from current levels.

The Pacific Regional Training Centre, meanwhile, is already drawing global attention for what it does. On any given day there could be as many as 350 people on site, either teaching the latest in public safety, or learning from skilled and highly trained educators. The overall payroll is around $8.5 million.

Currently under construction is a new state-of-the-art indoor firing range that represents an investment of nearly $19 million.

And there’s more to come: Overall student population at Canada Education Park is expected to climb to 18,470 students by 2020.

Making that happen will take talented trades people to build new facilities, instructors and support staff to deliver programs, and off-site businesses to provide everything from meals and accommodations, to supplies.

But it will also take political support.

We cannot assume the park will reach its full potential if local government is apathetic or uncommitted.

Knowledge-based economies are the key to future growth. In an increasingly complex world, education and training are critical to success.

Chilliwack has the opportunity to deliver those skills. But we need a local government that not only understands the importance of that potential, but has an unrelenting drive and vision to make it happen.