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Opinion: Why Coquitlam is lobbying for skills training and business tax fairness

Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart on how the city is addressing business and property tax challenges
Coquitlam is one of B.C.'s fastest-growing communities

If you run a business in Metro Vancouver, Coquitlam not only understands the challenges you face, we and our businesses face them, too. A shortage of suburban office space. A shrinking supply of industrial land. Limited availability of skilled labour. The cost of and demand for housing for employees and customers.

In Coquitlam, we believe there are solutions. So, while we have much to offer businesses, we’re also actively creating and campaigning for solutions that will allow business to further thrive in our growing, green and vibrant community.

Situated at the geographic centre of the Lower Mainland, our city is ideal for businesses with customers throughout the region. From wholesalers and manufacturers to shipping companies, Coquitlam is home to a variety of enterprises that need to transport their products quickly. If, in these days of hybrid work, you’re tempted to downplay the importance of location, consider the lessons we all learned early in the pandemic about the vital importance of logistics and supply chains in the movement of goods.

As Coquitlam, like our Metro neighbours, faces a dwindling supply of undeveloped industrial land, we aim to be at the forefront of innovative ideas. For instance, along our busy United Boulevard corridor, a 196,000-square-foot, multi-storey warehouse is under construction right now, showing that land-constrained industrial buildings can grow up, not just out, effectively doubling or tripling the space and business opportunities a single parcel can offer.

In addition, Coquitlam has streamlined the application process for business licences through Business LinQ, while the city’s QNet Fibre Optic Network leases 90 kilometres of dark fibre, meaning low-cost, ultra-high-speed data access is readily accessible for tech businesses and even residential developments.

One of B.C.’s fastest growing communities, Coquitlam is home to a diverse, highly educated, technologically connected population that speaks the languages of the world and international business. Just as our residents retain connections around the planet, so do our businesses and even the city, which enjoys sister-city relationships with the likes of Paju, South Korea.

Those are some of the advantages Coquitlam has. But we know we have to do more to bring businesses and jobs to our community, and we encourage other Lower Mainland cities and our provincial government to join us.

Coquitlam is doing its part by fostering and approving a vast range of housing types because we need more homes to meet demand. Many of those homes are being built close to Coquitlam’s four SkyTrain stations.

In order to build all that housing in Coquitlam and elsewhere, the city has lobbied B.C.’s Ministry of Post-Secondary Education and Future Skills to increase opportunities for training in trades and construction, and we’re hopeful institutions can meet that demand even as they improve access to training for other in-demand professions, such as nursing.

Another issue about which we’ve lobbied the province is skyrocketing increases in property tax assessments and resulting taxes.

Let me explain: BC Assessment assesses property value at the highest and best use of a plot of land. That means if there’s an older, single-storey building on a piece of commercial land in an area that has been slated for high-density development — for instance, in our Austin Heights neighbourhood — the owner of the property is taxed not on its current use but on what it would be worth as the site of, say, a condo tower with office and commercial space. And if a business on such a site has a triple-net lease, under which it, rather than its landlord, is responsible to pay for property tax hikes, the burden can kill an otherwise successful business.

Coquitlam has been a leader in campaigning for tax fairness for such businesses along with other municipalities, and we’re hopeful the province provides relief soon.

Facing this and other challenges together, Coquitlam is confident we and our Metro Vancouver neighbours can serve our citizens and businesses, offering them opportunities to thrive, prosper and feel at home.

Richard Stewart has lived in Coquitlam his entire life and has been mayor since 2008. He previously served as a city councillor and as MLA for Coquitlam-Maillardville.