Many are seeking work in the fast-growing high-tech sector, which is hungry for young people.
Marko Bosnjak is proud that he has put a deposit down on his first condo, a 600-square-foot one-bedroom suite just 10 minutes outside of Kelowna’s bustling downtown. That wouldn’t be so remarkable but for the fact the fledgling digital marketer just turned 21 in January and managed to save more than $40,000 for his $234,900 condo—all with no help from the Bank of Mom and Pop.
He is just one of hundreds of millennials who are flowing into Kelowna with its relatively affordable home prices and enviable lifestyle. Many are seeking work in the fast-growing high-tech sector, which is hungry for young people, especially those born between 1982 and 2000.
While there are no hard figures on how many millennials have moved to Kelowna in the last five years, a 2015 survey conducted by Accelerate Okanagan, a local organization that promotes the high-tech industry, found that of the 7,600 people working at 650 companies in Kelowna, about 52 per cent of those workers were under the age of 35.
“This is not an industry which hires senior and seasoned older people,” says CEO Raghwa Gopal. “These tech companies take a risk on younger people, creating more opportunities for them.”
High tech, he said, now surpasses the wine industry and tourism as the region’s chief economic engine, generating about $1.3 billion annually and showing no sign of slowing down.
Born in Mexico in 1997, Bosnjak came to Canada with his parents three years later, settling in Oliver, about a 90-minute drive south of Kelowna. He attended high school, and in what he calls “a blessing,” the school helped him get a job at Valley First credit union. “It opened my eyes to what it means to save money and get ahead in life,” he says.
While still working at the credit union by day, Bosnjak and a buddy—“a nerdy techy guy, super smart”—worked nights to form, in January, a website service company called Eureka. “Last month, we hit just under $10,000 in sales and we want to keep the momentum going.”
Meanwhile, in Vancouver, Alison Roach, 25, an SFU grad who flirted with journalism before taking a job in digital marketing, was contemplating moving to Kelowna with her boyfriend, Norbert.
“I wasn’t really finding the opportunities I wanted in Vancouver,” she says, having worked in coordinator positions while yearning to do more writing. “I felt sort of stuck and stagnant.”
Responding to an online ad, Roach scored a job at Strawhouse, a fast-growing digital marketing firm in Kelowna, and the pair were off to the Okanagan. It helped that Norbert is a pilot for Air Canada’s Jazz, which allows him to commute daily by air to his YVR-based job.
Roach’s change of job wasn’t the only benefit that came with the move: the couple more than doubled their living space, going from a 500-square-foot “shoebox” off The Drive for $1,500 a month to a 1,100-square-foot two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment in Kelowna for $1,750 a month. As well, she is just a five-minute bike ride from the office.
For 29-year-old accountant Pamela Kuiper and her husband, Andrew, the tipping point was the ridiculously high prices of homes surrounding their rented 650-square-foot one-bedroom condo in downtown Vancouver. That, and the dismal alternative of a 90-minute daily commute from, say, an affordable Fraser Valley townhome, prompted them to look at getting out of the city.
“It was fun, and we loved it, but we couldn’t see ourselves settling down there [in Vancouver],” she said. Then a job opportunity came up for Andrew, an environmental consultant, starting up a Kelowna office at a small firm. He interviewed and got the job. Around the same time, Pamela moved from a small North Shore accounting firm to the Kelowna office of Grant Thornton.
The couple now live in a carriage house in Lower Mission, a neighbourhood about 20 minutes from downtown Kelowna. It is significantly roomier than their former condo, with two bedrooms and two bathrooms and a good-sized backyard where Kuiper has indulged her passion for cultivating a veggie garden. They also enjoy hiking and camping outside the city.
“We are just renting now, but want to buy a house at some point,” she says. “Most importantly, we are not feeling the pressure as much to buy a home. That pressure really takes over everything in your mind, and it’s very hard to remember you like to do other things than look at real estate online.”
Amy Matejcek, a real estate agent who specializes in helping millennials relocate to Kelowna, says the downtown scene with its new restaurants and cafes, sports and cultural events, combined with nearby skiing in the winter and boating and biking in the summer, is a giant magnet for millennials. That, and high rents—Kelowna has one of the lowest vacancy rates in Canada—have led many in the age group to leap into home ownership.
A millennial with a $50,000-to-$60,000 annual income and some money saved up could buy a condo for $350,000, about the average condo selling price in Kelowna last June, she says, and significantly cheaper than what you would pay in Metro Vancouver.
Kelowna Quick Facts
- Average June 2018 price of a single-family home: $716,274
- Average June price of a townhouse: $455,749
- Gross median household income: $71,127 (Vancouver: $72,662)
- Number of kilometres of on-street bike lanes: 300
- Average annual precipitation: 345 millimetres (Vancouver: 1,457 mm)
- Average summer temperature: 27°C (Vancouver: 23°C)
- Number of annual visitors to the region’s 240 vineyards: 500,000