The kids are coming home.
Despite the popular perception, youth retention might not be Parksville Qualicum Beach’s biggest problem.
According to a 2014 Island Coastal Economic Trust (ICET) report the “region had a net loss of more than 7,000 people age 20 to 24 between 2006 and 2011 … But the trend reverses once people reach their 30s, with about 3,400 extra residents in the 30-34 age range moving into the region.”
The ICET region includes Parksville Qualicum Beach, Nanaimo, the Cowichan Valley, Comox Valley, Sunshine Coast, Mount Waddington and Alberni-Clayoquot communities. Data was collected using the Canadian Census.
It’s welcome news for Parksville mayor Marc Lefebvre who called the findings “hopeful.” “I think why wouldn’t young people want to live here?” Lefebvre said. “We offer a great lifestyle here, I know I love it.”
So does 34-year-old Lissa Alexander, a Qualicum Beach native who moved away at age 18 only to find herself back in town more than a decade later.
“I left because I think, like any other young person, I wanted to see the world,” Alexander told The NEWS.
She studied journalism in Calgary, traveled around Europe working odd jobs, freelanced in Vancouver — and after all that, found her way back home.
“I didn’t appreciate the area until I left,” Alexander admitted. “I didn’t realize how beautiful Qualicum was until I was gone.”
She said she was drawn to metropolitan cities — like Calgary and Vancouver — because they seemed vibrant, busy and full of economic opportunity, aspects Alexander revelled in while she was a resident.
“I don’t regret moving away at all,” she said. “I made a lot of money and had a lot fun.”
Asked why she came back, Alexander said, without missing a beat: “Once I got pregnant it was a no-brainer … I started thinking about my upbringing and I wanted to give my kids that.”
She said Parksville Qualicum Beach is a great place to raise kids as it’s known for its safety, a sense of community and the many resources available for families.
Moreover, Alexander said most of her friends who left town in their early 20s have moved back to the area in the last few years for the same reason, so finding a social life has been a breeze.
While she said employment has been a struggle for both herself and her husband at times, in the end “it’s about quality of life, it’s about what you want.”
Oceanside RCMP Cpl. Jesse Foreman confirmed Parksville Qualicum Beach has an “extremely low” crime rate compared to other communities of its size — making for a family-friendly city.
Foreman, who was born in Parksville but left for a few years, also made his way back home.
He started his policing career in Surrey, took a limited-duration posting in Sayward and eventually made his way back to Parksville, where he still has a lot of family.
“I just like the quality of life and having family close by,” Foreman said of his decision to return home. “And it’s affordable.”
ICET consulting economist Jamie Vann Struth, who prepared the report, said economic opportunities definitely drive where young adults decide to settle down, “but in a lot of cases people are just returning to the community they grew up in.”
However, Vann Struth said the latter is only typical when that hometown offers a good quality of life.
“People aren’t going to come back if it’s an unpleasant place to be,” he said, adding there are, of course, other factors like the real estate market that affect these decisions.
“Parksville Qualicum Beach is obviously an attractive place to be but it’s historically appealed to older people,” said Vann Struth.
But he noted more people in their “prime working age (25 to 49 years old)” are moving in than moving out. “People are attracted to lifestyle,” said Vann Struth. “I think it’s just one of the most beautiful places in the world.”
Kim Burden, Parksville and District Chamber of Commerce executive director, said “economic development is a significant priority.” Burden is working with the Oceanside Initiative project — designed specifically to attract and retrain young entrepreneurs to Parksville Qualicum Beach.
“We’ve put together this marketing package to bring jobs to the community,” he said.
Burden said he’s planning “a regional business walk,” where politicians and business people will “blitz the community” from Nanoose Bay to Deep Bay, including Parksville and Qualicum Beach, asking local businesses what resources they need to grow. “We’ll take data from that project and look to match existing resources with businesses to help them grow,” he said.
For more information on the Oceanside Initiative visit www.workpqb.com.