Bigger does not mean better for the community of Whistler.
Bigger means continued growth in low-paying retail and service jobs. This is going to occur anyway because of visitor increases and general popularity. Whistler has grown faster than any community in Canada, along with the highest new house prices (year 2000) in the nation.
Local salaries have not, however, kept up with inflation over the last 10 years. Transient workers from Australia, Ontario and Quebec struggle through a few winters, then move on.
According to Statistics Canada, a salaried worker in Whistler earns 68 per cent of the province-wide average.
The focus then for the municipality and the public-service sector should be to broaden the tax base and improve the local economy by attracting higher paying jobs in the so-called primary or contributory industries companies such as Paradata in Function Junction, whose payroll comes from the sale of goods or services outside the Whistler economy.
Many of Whistler's minimum-wagers are highly educated (I recall a medical doctor from overseas being rejected as a parking lot attendant because he was over trained).
Thus, paradoxically, the current transient work force is Whistler's strongest asset and one of its biggest liabilities for industrial recruitment. Many low-wage earners would need "residency" status, and alternate job training. Soon ticket sellers, takers and retailers will be going the way of the dodo bird, just as check-out clerks are being replaced in the US supermarkets and customers check out via barcode and credit card.
Whistler offers a great lifestyle, including golf, hiking, biking, etc. But having evolved as a recreation community, the work force and social-political structure within Whistler is not familiar with the needs of production employers.
The community must, in addition to affordable housing, speed up its program of attracting jobs that pay 125 per cent of the provincial average, because that's how much more it costs to live here.
The effort is also needed due to the long-term strain on municipal revenues as a result of declining building permit fees and cost-sharing cutbacks.
We'd be better off if nobody moved to Whistler. People cost money, from a government services point of view (subsidized sewer installations for the residents of Emerald Estates; potential threat of having to share in the cost of a $20 million Olympic bid). And guess who is getting the biggest benefit of a $19 million sewer upgrade at Function Junction that taxpayers will not doubt have a share in.
Historically, Whistler has neither ignored nor emphasized economic development. It has coasted along under the cover of being a resort municipality.
There are, however, some signs of speculative buildings for new industries, in Function Junction and Pemberton.
Still, the muni and provincial governments should not put all their eggs into skiing, snowboarding, golf and Olympic bids. Incentives, for instance, should be changed to reward companies that create higher-paying jobs. Intrawest, Tourism Whistler and the other majors must re-examine their financial commitments to the annual appropriation to economic development. The budget should be in the $1 million area.
Committing resources toward an enhanced economy is imperative to the long term quality of life in Whistler. Otherwise taxes will continue to go ballistic, the core of the working force will have to continue having two jobs and living three and four to a room.
It takes a stronger effort than what is now being given. And it takes leadership.