A Place Everyone Wants to Call Home

People want to live in Fernie because of the lifestyle. Business respondents in the Chamber’s business retention and expansion survey most frequently cited the lifestyle (29%) as why they started a business in Fernie. It is a town people want to live in where entrepreneurs will create work so they can enjoy the lifestyle and the great sense of community here.

Thinking about what it is that builds such a great community, I recall a conversation I had with library director Emma Dressler. We spoke about the number of events and activities happening that draw people out of their homes and provide a social opportunity to chat with neighbours and enjoy life here. And that it is the strong community that makes these events great – the strong support from businesses and residents. This past winter another great example came to my attention while promoting Griz Days. Two weekends before Griz Days there was Fernie Stoke Fest, the next weekend was The Fernie Mountain Film Festival, and then Griz Days. Three great events put on by local organizations, sponsored by local businesses, and attended by residents and visitors. Similar things happen in the summer with the Wednesday Concert Series, Bibbity Boppity Boo, Wapiti, and races like Tears and Gears and the Fernie Marathon. While all these events are open to tourists and visitors, the core of the audience is local. The sponsors are local, the volunteers are local, and the events make the community something to enjoy. Organized and supported by residents and small business owners who chose to make Fernie their home.

Visitors experiencing the Fernie vibe are drawn to the area. It shows in our increasing population and increasing second home ownership (reported by the Columbia Basin Rural Development Institute). The question should be asked, what does this mean for the future of our mountain home? As tourism in Fernie and BC grows, we can look at communities who have experienced similar growth to learn what works, and what challenges can come with Fernie’s increased popularity. Powder Magazine recently published an article about the challenges of living in a ski town. It reports places like Tahoe, Vail, and Whitefish are experiencing a shortage of beds and houses for people to live in. The article best sums up the situation in these ski towns as “not only is housing overpriced but it’s practically impossible to find” (March 17, 2017).  

The good news is our community is being proactive on this subject. The City of Fernie is working on two projects to understand the needs of our community 1) an affordable housing study, and 2) short-term rental regulations. The goals of these projects are to understand our current situation and develop policy and plans to support Fernie’s growing community.

Without access to housing, our businesses will find it harder to find employees. In the past two years, we have seen businesses reduce their hours of operation because they cannot find employees. The housing affordability study will help us understand if the grocery and convenience store worker, servers, teachers, health-care workers, and entry-level employees can afford and/or find a place to live. The housing study will complement the short-term rental discussion and help answer the question of how many rental units have been removed from our long-term rental pool. Are short-term rentals exaggerating the housing situation?

Fernie is a great community full of people ready to get things done. We see this in the number of clubs, organizations, and events that happen here. People want to live here. Businesses want their employees to live here. The Chamber has heard from many businesses that they cannot find enough people to fill the jobs they have open. The Chamber is invested in working with the City of Fernie to find solutions for our community; to take a proactive look at developing housing solutions, to supporting business with minimal but effective regulations, and to supporting our business community in being their best.