Prince George. British Columbia’s Northern Capital and as close to the centre of the province’s proverbial wheel as you can get…without being in the actual centre, which would be Vanderhoof. Close enough though, we’ll take it.
If you were to draw a quick “X” through British Columbia, those lines would neatly converge at the confluence of the Fraser and Nechako River in BC’s central interior and on the steps of the community where we head up our Northern Operation for Excel Personnel.
With a population in excess of 70,000 people, Pr. George is the largest city in Northern BC and sits proudly at the crossroads of Highway 16 and 97 respectively.
It’s also one of the fastest growing regions in the country and plays a pivotal role when it comes to doing business in the North. Since PG is the hub for nearly everything heading North, South, East and West in BC, it’s well placed to take advantage of industry requirements anywhere outside of the lower mainland or Okanagan. Turns out there is “hope” past Hope (BC).
If we take a look back at where the city got its start, Prince George’s history (going back to the 1800’s) has always been connected with its geographic location.
This dates back to the gold rush and even before then, with the fur trade and the venerable Hudson Bay Co. During the earliest years of western settlement, dozens of massive steamships plied the Fraser and Nechako Rivers, delivering materials and people to the interior of the province. However, it wasn’t until the very early 1900’s, when the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway was pushed through, that growth and commerce really took hold in the region.
With the ushering in of more convenient rail traffic, those trains heralded the decline of the legendary Steamboats working Northern Rivers, which faded away to near nothingness by the 20’s. Signs of these massive vessels’ influence on the river can still be found on the silty banks of the Fraser and Nechako today.
However, even though those massive paddle-wheelers relocated, sank or otherwise rotted away, these ships and that rail line had the desired effect on commerce in the area. They both did their part in delivering stalwart individuals that would, through sheer force of will alone, clear the land, build a city and establish industry in a community that continues to grow today.
Jump forward a hundred years and that same tenacious attitude still rings true of Prince George and its people and its importance as a logistical hub for the region is just as defining today as it was then.
Transportation has always been a key element that has helped Prince George to remain relevant in an ever-changing economic climate. Whether it’s food, machinery, raw logs or dimensional lumber, BC Transportation Companies move millions upon millions of dollars worth of product by truck through Prince George every year and being at the crossroads of Highway 16 and 97 is only part of the reason for this community’s “steadiness”.
For example, Air Cargo: The Prince George Airport (YXS) has recently completed a runway expansion, bringing its total length to nearly 12,000 feet, this has made it more than long enough to land even the largest commercial aircraft. It also gives the region a much longer reach connecting the territory to previously unreachable markets throughout the globe. This massive piece of infrastructure is key to the Airport Authority’s plan to bill itself as a geographically sensible and cost-effective leader for air transportation logistics.
And then there’s rail: CN Rail’s Inland Container port, which I find myself looking at as I type this, shares all the same advantages of our Highway Network as those strips of metal connect to the North, South, East and West. Pr. George has become a staging area for products moving throughout North America, with special importance given to the movement of containers by rail to and from the Container Port in Prince Rupert and to all points on the left side of any high-school map (minus Hawaii I suppose).
Also, due to the proximity and the ready access to local Prince George mills, there is an ease of movement for dimensional lumber products into and out of the community. Wood, after all, is in our blood.
It should go without saying that Prince George cut its teeth in the Forest Products Sector. Some of the largest employers have always been, and continue to be, the large mills of the region who turn Spruce, Pine and Fir into everything from 2×4’s to pulp & paper.
Now, as then, wood fibre continues to be a driving economic force in the region, but as the wants and needs of the world change, so to do the industries that support them. Take the State of the Art Conifex Bio-Mass Power Plant in Mackenzie BC for instance. This facility uses the energy created from sawmill waste products to generate enough electricity that it can sell it to BC Hydro who can then power 20-odd-thousand homes!
Or Pinnacle Renewable Energy’s Wood-Pellet plant locations dotted throughout the region which provide an inexpensive and environmentally conscious alternative to traditional heating options for both residential and commercial applications…also, great cat-litter…you’re welcome, Cat owners.
You see, wood is Prince George’s past, its present and its future. And interesting example of its future is with the Wood Innovation & Design Centre (WIDC) smack-dab in the middle of Downtown Pr. George. This 6 floor (100ft tall) commercial building was built with cross laminated timbers and LVL (to name a few) and is the tallest “contemporary” wood building in North America. It stands as an example of how the forest industry can lend itself to more modern construction and design concepts…wood, much like Prince George itself, remains relevant.
Now the things written above are all traditional industries that one would expect of a community like Prince George. However, while these are what has allowed Prince George to maintain and grow, they are also only part of what this community has to offer.
In my line of work as a recruiter, I am ultimately a salesperson. My job is to sell somebody on an opportunity or to sell a client on the services that we can offer…that’s the whole point of what I/we do.
Because of this, my searches for talent can lead me far from home and deep into the province or across the country. It’s during these long-distance searches that one thing becomes clear.
The perception of the city. Candidates (and the occasional client) are more than happy to tell me all they know about Prince George, and I, like a good partner, I listen to them as they preach about their opinion of PG as though it were the gospel. This I will admit…it can be frustrating to hear another person’s negative perception about this city.
Their assumption that PG is little more than a dusty little lumber town full of plaid jackets, hard hats and gas-station coffee shops gets a little old. But, in accepting their assumption, I have to accept that their experience is particularly uneducated or based on experience from years ago.
So… let’s expand on a couple of the services this community has to offer, shall we?
- Education: University of Northern BC – UNBC: One of the Top Universities of its size in the Country, and rated as #1 in 2015 (Maclean’s University Rankins)
- Health: University Hospital of Northern BC – UHNBC: The largest acute care facility in Northern BC. It also houses the BC Cancer Agency’s new “Centre for the North”, a world class cancer care facility.
- Industry: Mining, Manufacturing, Engineering, Scientific, Industrial Service and Supply, Construction, a bustling Retail sector, IT, Finance, to name a few. Many of these are large companies with large operations that have identified Prince George as a commercial and industrial hub that can service their interests throughout the North. These businesses benefit from an affordable place to ply their trade, a young workforce and a vibrant business community that lends itself to the support of local businesses through a myriad of groups up to and including organisations like the Prince George Chamber of Commerce or any number of associations.
- Arts & Culture & Sport: The Prince George Symphony Orchestra (PGSO), Studio 2880, Two Rivers Gallery, the Public Library, fantastic locally owned eateries, Theatre North West, CN Centre, Northern Fancon, the Prince George Cougars and Spruce Kings Hockey clubs, Pacific Western Brewing, Otway Nordic Ski Centre, pick a Museum, now pick a historical site, how about Exploration Place, the Park Drive-In, Pidherny Mountain Bike trails and then there’s, skiing, camping, fishing, hiking, community parks, provincial parks, nature preserves. Hell, just drop your canoe, kayak or inflatable in the Nechako and drift for a couple hours…my fingers are getting tired and I think you see the point. For more information on Prince George activities and amenities, take a look at Move up Prince George, it’s an excellent resource for those wanting to learn more about PG or check the City of Prince George’s website here.
The fact is, I’ve missed more than I’ve added. Prince George is vibrant and energetic. It’s a safe and affordable place to raise a family. There are a lot of current opportunities and excellent prospects for the future.
And if there’s one thing I can leave you with, it’s this…Whenever I’ve been part of bringing a new person to this city, they have all told me the same thing…”There’s so much more to Prince George, I had no idea…”. You see, Pr. George is much more than an intersection.
It’s a city that appeals to so many and one that deserves consideration by those looking to make a change. For those in the big-city that can barely afford a 900sq ft condo, you could buy half a neighbourhood for what you’re paying in Vancouver and there is no 2-hour commute. For the those in small towns, it has all the convenience you’d expect but is small enough to still know your neighbour. Prince George might actually be the perfect size for a true community, small enough to know the people and big enough that they won’t stick their noses in your business….the small town folks will get that last part.
Now this post in no way contains everything going on, but it should highlight the fact that this city is growing. It’s changing. It’s flexing its muscles and refining its culture. Now sure, some of us may come across like those early pioneers from time to time, and yes they may occasionally get a little rough around the edges, but the world, she is a-changin’…and I, for one, enjoy where it’s going.
Written by Geoff Simpson, Northern BC Recruitment – Excel Personnel, Prince George