Prison could unlock economic benefits

BC Corrections officers stand at ease during the announcement of the construction of the new provincial prison near Oliver recently. The economic benefits of the project are expected to be felt throughout the region.  - Mark Brett/Western News
BC Corrections officers stand at ease during the announcement of the construction of the new provincial prison near Oliver recently. The economic benefits of the project are expected to be felt throughout the region.
— image credit: Mark Brett/Western News

Dentists, coffee shop owners and real estate agents are just some of those in line to benefit, according to B.C.’s premier, from a correctional centre being constructed on an industrial park on Osoyoos Indian Band land.

“I was talking to a dentist who operated in Oliver and he has gone through something like 20 assistants in the last five years. Why? Because their husbands can’t find permanent, good family-supporting work. Well, this prison is going to provide good work for people either inside the prison in one of the 240 permanent positions, but also all the contracted positions as well,” said Premier Christy Clark.

“It will mean people can come to the community, settle down. But, hopefully, it will mean people can come from outside the community bringing their families, sending them to schools in the region and settling down. That is really important for the region as it ages, to have an influx of younger families coming in to support schools and all those other services that people depend on.”

Clark, who was in the South Okanagan last week to make the announcement of the $200 million, 360-cell Okanagan Correctional Centre, said she talked to people in what will be the correctional centre’s neighbouring community of Oliver and found people mostly had positive outlooks about the centre.

While talking to one coffee shop owner, Clark said a question came up of will the jobs remain local. Clark went back to the dentist reference, stating there will be inmates in the prison that will need that service, and they aren’t going to be able to be provided from someone in Vancouver.

“I think Oliver Redi-Mix is probably going to put a pretty good bid on the cement construction part of this, just for one example. But what about the thousand workers on this project? Where do you think they are going to go for coffee? Where do you think they are going to have their dinner? And where do you think, if they don’t live in Oliver or Penticton, they are going to be staying overnight? Where are they going to get their car fixed?,” said Clark. “It is all going to happen locally, so all of that activity is going to be a huge ripple across the community. This is one of the biggest government investments in economic activity in the region in a long, long time. People are pretty excited about it for a reason.”

Clark said there was a couple of reasons the Osoyoos Indian Band land was chosen out of the potential sites. The Osoyoos Indian Band is an attractive partner when considering they have the distinction of owning the most businesses per capita of any First Nation in Canada.

“The other is we needed to look at and think about what region of the province needed the economic stimulus that would come from putting a prison here. We are going to put it somewhere, why not put it in a part of the province where people are really concerned about the level of economic activity? We are going to put it somewhere, so why not put is where people need the work?” said Clark.

Public Safety Minister Shirley Bond said it takes about four years to build a correctional facility the size proposed at the OIB industrial site, Senkulmen Enterprise Park. The first step is creating a business plan with the OIB to present to the finance minister. Bond said it could take up to six months to have that finalized.

“We are pushing the envelope trying to get the corrections centre done by the end of 2015. It may be early 2016,” said Bond.

Oliver real estate agent John DiBernardo, with Re/Max Wine Capital Realty, believes the correctional centre will help build the commercial base and bring more families to grow Oliver and the surrounding area, albeit not immediately.

“I don’t think it will have an overnight effect on us. I don’t think prices are going to start to march up right away because there are too many other uncertainties in the global economy to do that. But over a period of time, it definitely is going to have an impact on us. It is going to bring a lot of temporary workers into town that are going to be looking for rental accommodation and they will be visiting our restaurants, spending money in our town and there could be families relocating,” said DiBernardo.

The real estate agent said Oliver has pretty attractive housing prices compared to Penticton or other Okanagan areas. Some clients that have been on the fence about investing have already told DiBernardo they are now ready to jump in with the thought that rental property needs will increase.

“Once the new high school is finished construction and given a couple of different things put together with the prison announcement, such as prices remaining low and interest rates being low, it should have a really good effect for us,” said DiBernardo.

Oliver has seen its share of rocky times and an influx of young families is welcomed. Last year, the closure of Tuc El Nuit Elementary School in Oliver was taken off the table after parents rallied to keep it open. Provincial funding loss was forcing the school district to consider making drastic changes, including closing the school, based on enrolment. Oliver also was hit hard employment-wise with the closure of General Coach, that saw about 80 jobs lost, and the closure of Weyerhaeuser in Okanagan Falls that provided hundreds of jobs to South Okanagan residents.

“We think it is very good news for our schools. Enrolment in every community is always a concern, but I think there is a real opportunity to have more younger people with families moving into the area,” said Oliver Mayor Ron Hovanes. “There are many spinoffs here. Just the opportunity for business, suppliers, all kinds of jobs. I am looking at it in a very optimistic manner, and for the most part, feedback from citizens has been extremely positive.”


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