Live and Work

Doing Business in the Columbia Valley

Outline of Economic Activity in the Columbia Valley                     
Community Economic Activity
Canal Flats Mining (gypsum)
FairmontHot Springs Tourism Tree Farming Ranching
Panorama Tourism
Windermere/Wilmer Tourism Recreation – Forestry – Mining (gypsum)  – railroad
Edgewater Farming  – Sawmill (lumber and speciality wood products) – Tree Farming
Brisco Forestry (poles and posts) – Ranching –  Mining
Spillimacheen Farming – Ranching
Radium Hot Springs Sawmill – Mining (magnesite) -Tourism
Invermere Sawmill – Tourism

Small Business:

Small business is defined as businesses with less than 50 employees and includes self-employed workers.  The growth of small business in British Columbia is the highest in the country (3.8% compared to the national rate of 0.9%).  At the end of 2005, 98% of all businesses in British Columbia were small businesses.  According to Statistics Canada, the majority of these are classed as micro businesses which are defined as having fewer than 5 employees or self-employed workers without paid help.

From 2001 to 2005 the Kootenays experienced an average increase in new business startups of 3.4%, or about 500 new businesses per year, well above the provincial average of 1.3%.  The Kootenays also saw a 42.4% increase in self-employment between 2001 and 2006; the provincial average was 17.7%.

75% of self employment ventures in British Columbia are in the service industry – professional, scientific and technical services, trade and finance, insurance, real estate and leasing.  The remaining ventures (25%) are in production; the majority of these being connected to the construction industry.  Over half of those self-employed are between the ages of 35 and 54, and a quarter are aged 55 and over.

The trend toward self-employment matches demographics and growth in the ColumbiaValley where almost 30% of residents are between the ages of 35 and 55.  In 2007, the number of self employment ventures increased an average of 114% from the same period in 2005, in the fields of building and maintenance services, day spas, health practitioners, professional services and tourism.

Major Employers:

Major employers in the ColumbiaValley are government services (health, education, parks) as well as forestry and public utilities.  The largest employer is Interior Health.

Kootenay Business Magazine annually publishes a list of the top 50 revenue producing companies in the Kootenays, which includes our own ColumbiaValley businesses: (2006)

  • Canfor (Radium Division) – Radium Hot Springs
  • Kootenay Savings Credit Union – Invermere and Edgewater
  • Fairmont Resort Properties Ltd. – Fairmont Hot Springs
  • FairmontHot Springs Resort – Fairmont
  • Kicking Horse Coffee – Invermere
  • Woodex – Brisco
  • ColumbiaBasin Trust – throughout Kootenays

An informal count of businesses owned or managed by ColumbiaValley residents conducted for the purpose of this project identified 804  businesses, which do not include government or incorporated professional individuals.  Types of businesses operating in the ColumbiaValley are portrayed in the following chart:


Since the first mineral discoveries were made in the 1860s, mining has played a significant role in shaping the development of the ColumbiaValley.  Paradise Mines, located in the remote Toby Creek-Horsethief Creek drainages brought a rush of prospectors, and was a small but consistent producer of silver, lead and zinc by the mid 1920s. Major output occurred between 1954 and 1967, during which time shipments totalled roughly 2.3 million tons.

In late 1860s, a mini gold rush ensued after gold was discovered in the WildHorseRiver, near Cranbrook, and Findlay Creek, near the headwaters of the Columbia River.  While the gold deposits panned out quickly, smaller operations opened up veins of silver, ore and copper.  Gypsum was discovered near Windermere by Ernie Byran, a prospecting trapper.  He staked a claim and started a mining partnership which today produces upwards of 500,000 tons per year, under the direction of Windermere Mining Division.

The mining of non-metallic minerals – sand, gravel, gypsum and tufa – provide employment to hundreds in the ColumbiaValley as does the extraction of magnesite, currently mined in the Rocky Mountains east of Radium Hot Springs.

Exploration continues for Sullivan-type deposits in the Purcell basin and for precious metals in the Rockies.

The Timber Industry

Almost 95% of the land in British Columbia is Crown land, owned and regulated by the government of British Columbia.  The Ministry of Forests is responsible for determining annual allowable cut on crown lands.  The Rocky Mountain Forest District, which encompasses approximately 2.78 million hectares, including the ColumbiaValley, oversees planning, harvesting and silviculture activities in the southeast area of province.

The vast, diverse forests of the Columbia RiverValley have a long history with the First Nations, who once relied heavily on forests for food, shelter and spiritual values.  First Nations, BC Parks and forest companies are working together to identify wildlife habitat areas and co-manage protected sites.   Treaties and interim agreements, outlined under the Forest and Range Practices Act, consider aboriginal interests and economic opportunities.

The fertile sites along the Columbia River result in more tree species than any other ecological region in the province.   In 1951, when Invermere was incorporated as a village, economy was based primarily on logging and mining.  Statistics Canada (2001) indicates almost 20% of the labour force work in direct timber based industries, such as logging, forestry, processing and administration.  An additional 10% are employed in transportation, warehousing, and support services that sustain the timber industry.

Timber-based labour industries continue to be a major source of employment income in the ColumbiaValley.  Construction, forest recreation and nature tourism, forest management and health are industries that have shown tremendous growth as a direct result of our rich forests.

Agriculture and Ranching

Income from agriculture, ranching and Christmas tree production has fallen considerably over the last 10 years.  Operators in the ColumbiaValley are self-employed or family owned and RDEK indicates a growing trend toward the production of specialty items and niche market operations.  Statistics specific to the ColumbiaValley are not available.

Cottage Country Tourism

The hospitable climate, natural beauty of the landscape and abundance of recreational activities have all contributed to making the Columbia Valley one of the fastest growing regions of British Columbia.  The valley attracts recreational home owners, seasonal residents, retirees, and recreation seekers from across Canada and around the world.  Growth in numbers of second home owners has changed the make up of the traditional service industry, seeing a boom in such businesses as property management, outdoor maintenance and housekeeping services geared to the part-time residents.

While the total full-time population of the ColumbiaValley has shown steady growth over the past 5 years, of 3-4% annually, Statistics Canada indicates residential building permits from Jan – June 2007 have shown a 50% increase in the Village of Canal Flats and 93% in the District of Invermere, compared to the same period in 2006.

Industries directly impacted are construction and real estate companies.


2007 showed an increase in visits to the Visitor Info centers located throughout the valley.  During July, August and September of 2007, 12,566 visitors entered the Columbia Valley Visitor Centre.  The highest number of queries was for general information, followed by adventure/recreation, accommodation, parks information and attractions.

Tourists from around the world come to enjoy the rugged and untamed beauty of the ColumbiaValley.  With 14 golf courses, world class skiing on PanoramaMountain and the natural healing waters of the hot springs, the area has become a playground for well-to-do travelers.  For backcountry adventurers the selection of activities never ends – rock climbing, heli skiing, hiking, biking, river rafting, trail riding.   Those who seek the peaceful serenity of nature are drawn to our lakes, rivers, and forests for fishing, camping, photography or wildlife viewing.  Winter and summer, the tourist industry is booming in the ColumbiaValley.

Business in the Future

Throughout British Columbia, the fastest growing sectors are, in order

  • Construction
  • Education Services
  • Administration and Support Services
  • Real Estate
  • Health & Social Assistance

Source:   Small Business Profile (2007) from

Provincial statistics show a drop in the number of tourism businesses with 20 or more employees, and in the secondary manufacturing sector which indicates a decrease in both numbers of establishments and numbers of employees.

The “hottest jobs” are, in order

  • Construction
  • Retail
  • Arts, entertainment and recreation
  • Information and culture

Source:   Small Business Profile (2006) from

Ministry of Small Business Revenue and Statistics Canada 2001-2006

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