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Langford aims to lure major employers with possible tax breaks

Langford Mayor Stew Young says it’s time for some of the region’s biggest employers to set up shop in the West Shore. He told the Times Colonist he will pursue a 10-year tax holiday for any provincial office or tech company that opens in Langford.
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Langford Mayor Stew Young: "Put businesses where the people are."

Langford Mayor Stew Young says it’s time for some of the region’s biggest employers to set up shop in the West Shore.

He told the Times Colonist he will pursue a 10-year tax holiday for any provincial office or tech company that opens in Langford.

Langford’s population grew an estimated 7.2 per cent to 37,275 between 2014 and 2015, according to B.C. Stats. Young said he wants to see jobs that keep those people in the West Shore and off the road to Victoria every morning.

“I’m going to push this so hard. We need to put businesses where the people are,” Young said.

He will put the proposal on the next council agenda, he said.

Langford has used similar strategies to encourage growth in the past. In 2015, as economic activity in the municipality’s core began to slow, council approved an amenity fee reduction of 35 to 75 per cent for developers building downtown. Young also proposed similar reductions relating to rezoning fees, development permits and building permits, as well as a 10-year tax holiday for affordable housing and seniors’ housing.

Keeping jobs in the West Shore — and attracting provincial jobs — is not a new priority.

“We’ve been talking about that for 20 years. In my inaugural speech 25 years ago, I said I want self-sustainability and I want government jobs to come out here,” Young said.

“It now needs to change.”

Young said he has spoken with provincial politicians over the years about the idea, but it has not gained traction. He has not approached anyone directly this time, but he wants to find out which ministry employs the most workers from the West Shore and target that ministry first.

The offer would also be open to tech companies of any size, he said.

Greater Victoria’s tech sector directly employed about 23,000 people in 2014, according to a 2014 study commissioned by industry organization VIATeC.

Ty Whittaker, senior vice-president at real estate firm Colliers Victoria, said Young is not off the mark. There’s increasing commercial interest in the West Shore, because of its proximity to homes.

“I do have a tech company right now that is relocating from its downtown location down to Langford primarily because its employee base is all living and wanting to work in that community,” he said.

But lifestyle can also be a deterrent, depending on the company.

“Our software-development groups all tend to be downtown in that brick-and-beam type of space. All these young folks [who work there] want to be close to amenities, restaurants and the condos they live in,” Whittaker said.

Others find suburban tech parks, such as the Vancouver Island Technology Park, to be the right fit.

Whittaker said there is an 8.5 per cent vacancy rate for the office market and 4.5 per cent vacancy rate for the industrial market.

The provincial government property market has not been expanding, he said.

“[Provincial offices] amount to about 50 per cent of our entire office market, but they’ve been very conservative in any growth they’ve had,” Whittaker said.

The province is not set on keeping its workers in Victoria, said Tasha Schollen, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services. She pointed to 4000 Seymour Pl. in Saanich, where hundreds of public servants work, as an example.

“Yes, the province would consider locating provincial offices in Langford and other areas in the capital region as long as there was a business requirement for government office space there and a solid business case,” she said.

Analyzing where provincial employees live is one of the factors the province considers when looking for real estate. It also considers a particular ministry or department’s needs. In some cases, proximity to the legislature is required, she said.

asmart@timescolonist.com