Canal Flats, B.C., wants your business to move there

The Village is offering a tax break to businesses that relocate to this small Columbia Valley town

Rendition of Canal Flats sign.

As part of the Village's revitalization efforts, Canal Flats will have this sign installed this fall on Highway 93/95 at the north entrance to the village. — Image courtesy Village of Canal Flats

Canal Flats is open for business—literally.

The small village in the Columbia Valley is making an offer to entrepreneurs and business owners to relocate there in exchange for municipal tax breaks.

The goal is to increase the non-residential tax base from 10% to 15% and to increase the town’s population from its current 730 to a permanent population of 1,000.

The gist of the Revitalization Tax Incentive Bylaw is a reduction in municipal taxes over a period of six years. Here are the details:

Businesses or light industrial enterprises that invest in new business space developments, or improvements of an existing business space, of $50,000 or more are eligible. The program is up to six years, on a reverse sliding scale and breaks down as follows: years 1 to 3, 100% of new assessment waived; year 4, 80% of new assessment waived; year 5, 60% of new assessment waived; and year 6, 40% of new assessment waived.

Adrian Bergles, the CAO in Canal Flats, standing in front of building. He's wearing a blue shirt and black pants.

Adrian Bergles, the CAO in Canal Flats, is promoting a new business-friendly bylaw to increase the population and businesses in the small Columbia Valley village. — Photo courtesy Adrian Bergles

This new business-friendly bylaw is unique, explained Adrian Bergles, the CAO in Canal Flats for the last four years.

“The bylaw is novel because it applies to any suitably-zoned business or light industrial development anywhere in Canal Flats,” Bergles said. “Typically these bylaws are limited to a specific area in a community. This one is general and ‘wide open,’ you can say.

“It is hoped this new bylaw will encourage business development and therefore a more diverse taxation base less reliant on residential tax assessments.”

It is hoped that this bylaw will, over time, help establish more storefront businesses and light industrial developments and create jobs in the village.

The business landscape in Canal Flats

Currently, Canal Flats has many home-based businesses and only a few storefronts.

Most of the downtown is a mixed use residential zone that allows more than a dozen business uses from art gallery, restaurant and retail store to senior’s housing facility. Bergles said the village gateway at its southern end is zoned for things like brew pubs, farmers markets, service stations and campgrounds.

Interior picture of the Columbia Lake Technology Center.

Canal Flats has hundreds of acres zoned for light industrial uses. This industrial building is part of the Columbia Lake Technology Center. — Photo courtesy Village of Canal Flats

There are hundreds of acres of land zoned for industrial/technology, which allows all manners of industrial and technological uses including but not limited to restaurants and bars, horticulture, data centres, outdoor recreation facilities, and plant nurseries and greenhouses.

Much of these lands are parts of the major industrial sawmill that operated in Canal Flats for generations and closed permanently in 2016. Fortunately, well-known businessman Brian Fehr bought the shuttered sawmill in 2018 and turned it into the Columbia Lake Technology Center. The data centre is now one of the largest Bitcoin manufacturers in B.C. Fehr also plans to start a drone school there.

Amenities of living and working in Canal Flats

Bergles listed some of the amenities of the village:

  • a small town with a close-knit community
  • low cost of living
  • high quality of life
  • fibre optic connectivity
  • ample water
  • access to Columbia Lake and Kootenay River and easy access to the backcountry
  • Martin Morigeau Elementary School
  • Canal Flats Arena
  • low municipal taxation
  • fast development approvals

“It is hoped that all these make Canal Flats a desirable place for entrepreneurs to achieve their dreams,” Bergles said.

Currently, the second-home population is about 20% of the village, which is not as large as other communities in the Columbia Valley.

“We would hope that many of those folks would like to make Canal Flats and the East Kootenay their full-time home,” said Bergles, “and hopefully this initiative will help them do that.”

According to Bergles, Canal Flats adopted an award-winning Official Community Plan and Zoning Bylaw in 2019 that set the stage for the next 20 years of growth in the village. It also has embarked upon a review of its subdivision and servicing bylaw (i.e., development standard bylaw) to ensure that its costs for development remain competitive and low.

Other revitalization initiatives in the region

“Revitalization tax exemption program bylaws are not uncommon in B.C., and communities big and small have them—Canal Flats to Kelowna, for example,” Bergles said, “but the vast majorities are limited to a specific area. This one is not limited at all by geography—it applies anywhere in Canal Flats.

“The only other somewhat similar bylaw I found (not geography-limited) was Trail’s, but theirs only goes five years and only includes businesses, not light-industrial developments like Canal Flats.

Ponderosa Place is a mixed use redevelopment of the old school in Canal Flats.

Part of economic development is repurposing older buildings. Ponderosa Place is a mixed use redevelopment of the old school in Canal Flats. — Photo credit Steven Fry, Ground to Sky Media

Another city in southeastern British Columbia had great success with its downtown revitalization program. Grand Forks filled up its vacant storefronts downtown by paying six months’ worth of rental leases to newly relocated businesses. This revitalization initiative in 2020 was the brainchild of Alf Him of the Grand Forks Downtown Business Association.

Moving forward

Canal Flats Mayor Karl Sterzer weighed in on the revitalization bylaw.

“Jobs are key and critical to keeping the village sustainable,” he said, “ and this new bylaw is a strong play to get more business accelerated.”

Canal Flats is publicizing this initiative in local and regional media and online. It will also be part of future resident attraction marketing.

Are there any specific types of businesses that the village would like to draw in?

Bergles was emphatic: “Canal Flats wants your business! Any suitably-zoned business or light-industrial development is welcome to take advantage of this bylaw.”

Virginia Rasch

Virginia is a writer and editor with KPI Media. She is an avid outdoor recreationist in all seasons and has lived in the Kootenays for over 15 years. With degrees in the natural sciences, she has worked as a tour guide, an environmentalist, a writer, and an editor of books and scientific publications. Virginia now brings her passion for everything green to KootenayBiz. View all of Virginia Rasch’s articles

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