Business View Magazine interviews Ted Schaffer, Mayor of the City of Langley, British Columbia, for our focus on best practices in Canadian Cities.
Mayor Ted Schaffer has dedicated more than 25 years to supporting the City of Langley’s vision to build a vibrant, healthy, and safe community, a vision he and his Council colleagues have exceeded beyond all expectations. Just a 45-minute drive from Vancouver, this scenic and innovative regional center is well known as “The Place to Be” for residents, businesses, and visitors alike. The Mayor, who was first elected as a Langley City Councillor in 1990 and formally elected as Mayor in 2014, says, “As part of the Metro Vancouver Regional District, the City of Langley is one of 22 municipalities within the regional government structure, and we’re tasked to differentiate ourselves and emphasize what makes us unique.”
Small but aggressive, Langley City has retained its small city atmosphere and community spirit while offering all the amenities of a major urban center – a trait that appeals to a wide spectrum of people and businesses. Contained within just four square miles, the City consists of established suburban residential neighborhoods with a variety of housing types, a natural wetland of regional significance, parkland exceeding 300 acres, a pedestrian-oriented downtown, big-box retail, a regional shopping center, and one of the most active industrial and serviced commercial land bases in Metro Vancouver.
From modest beginnings as a small settlement near Innes Corners, Langley City has grown to a population of 27,000 with a distinct cultural and social identity. Mayor Schaffer states, “We’ve asserted ourselves as an economic center for the Fraser Valley. Our elected officials are visible neighbors, and tax dollars are spent to address issues of local significance, rather than being redirected to another community as is done in amalgamated governments. That’s why there is no aspiration towards amalgamation out here in western Canada, unlike other provinces, such as Ontario. On March 15, 2018 we celebrated our 63rd birthday as a separate municipality. That may not seem like much in the grand scheme of things but it’s very important to us. We’re proud of our heritage and, most importantly, we’re excited about our future!”
CKF Inc. is the largest employer in Langley City. Among its many environmentally-friendly pulp and paper products are Chinet plates, egg cartons (700,000 per year), and coffee trays for Tim Hortons and Starbucks. Another valuable employer, IPEX Inc., manufactures plastic pipes and industrial products for construction utilities. Langley City also thrives in the automotive sales sector, as home to Canada’s first luxury auto mall. The City is pleased to have assisted the Dilawri Group in locating its Mercedes-Benz dealership on Kwantlen First Nation land and securing a 40-year lease – quite a progressive initiative for the Kwantlen First Nation business group. Also in the luxury auto mall is the Open Road Auto Group which is owned by local businessman Christian Chia. Together, they have invested over $70 million in the automotive sector, selling and servicing Acura, Audi, Aston Martin, Bentley, BMW, Honda, Infiniti, Jaguar, Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Porsche, Subaru, and Volvo vehicles, in an industry that provides many high-paying jobs.
The City of Langley’s interests do not stop at the local or national levels. Recently the City invested with the Bank of China, making it the first Canadian municipal government to deposit funds with the financial institution. “This investment demonstrates a significant step to open the lines of communication in our community, increasing exposure and encouraging business investment opportunities for the City of Langley through the Bank of China (Canada) business partners,” notes Mayor Schaffer. “We hope that this initiative will encourage positive relationships and future business partnerships between local entrepreneurs and foreign investors, not only for our city but for the region as a whole.”
With more than 550 employees, Cascades Casino Resort (Gateway Casinos & Entertainment Ltd.) drives the economy from its highly popular three-component facility in downtown Langley City, featuring a casino, a hotel, and a city-owned convention center that seats up to 500 people. “Over the last 11 years, as a host local government to our casino, we’ve received approximately $80 million in revenue that we’ve poured into infrastructure. People don’t see that – sewers, roads, sidewalks – but that’s where the money goes,” states Mayor Schaffer. “We look after the dollars because we are stewards of the community. It’s not our money. Bottom line is we are a debt-free community because we’re fiscally responsible.”
Langley City offers many incentives to stimulate growth and attract businesses, among them an abundance of affordable, full-serviced industrial land, modest business licence fees, extremely competitive development cost charges, and some of the most favorable industrial and commercial tax rates in British Columbia. In fact, the City is consistently acknowledged as having the most efficient and streamlined development processes in the Metro Vancouver region – it recognizes that time means money. Schaffer notes, “We keep our taxes at a low, reasonable level, and work with industry to encourage development within our light industrial area. Our downtown core has wonderfully unique shops and few, if any, vacancies. We are pioneers in nurturing joint ventures between public and private sectors, including a Triple P deal for an arena with twin ice rinks; a homeless shelter run by the Salvation Army; a community music school; a seniors’ centre; and the Stepping Stone Community Services facility for people facing life challenges. All these are on city-owned property. We’re committed to pursuing opportunities that benefit everyone.”
Along with providing services to a broader regional population, Langley City is a net importer of workers – meaning the number of jobs available exceeds the size of the resident labour force. Langley City has earned bragging rights for achieving one of the highest ratios of jobs to population among Metro Vancouver municipalities, along with a well-balanced economic base. As a small local government, the City of Langley espouses the mantra “Leanness Inspires Innovation” and seeks out opportunities to partner with the development industry and community groups to promote their different interests. Mayor Schaffer notes, “At the City of Langley, we recognize the incredibly important role business owners, developers, and investors play in building a great city.”
In that regard, City Council focuses its efforts in seven areas: infrastructure renewal, quality of life, communication, revitalization, environment, protective services, and organizational excellence. “We’re making progress in all these areas,” Schaffer reports, “and ultimately it will define our success over the next five years. Our trade population area is in excess of 300,000 and that should double by 2026, with a trade potential of $3.84 billion. Our specialty businesses draw customers from Vancouver, Bellingham, and throughout Washington State, since we’re right on the U.S. border.”
It’s said that good cities react to opportunities, but great cities plan and create them. The City of Langley has done just that with an award-winning downtown master plan and innovative Brownfield redevelopment. Schaffer acknowledges, “We had to do something with contaminated industrial and commercial land that was sitting derelict and vacant. The plan focuses on what we can do to make these sites employment generators, improve the environmental conditions, expand our tax base, and promote sustainable development by utilizing existing infrastructure. What was so amazing was we were the first in B.C. to adopt a Brownfield Redevelopment Strategy.”
Most of the research was done on successful Brownfield initiatives in eastern Canada. Langley City took some of those best practices, modified them, and developed its own strategy that has resulted in over $198 million in new construction on Brownfield sites, creating more than 950 jobs, a national Brownie Award, a national Community Sustainability Award, a national Green Champion Award, a Federation of Canadian Municipalities award (FCM), and a provincial Economic Development Association Award.
“We didn’t do it for the accolades,” the Mayor admits, “They came after the fact. We did it because we had a problem – contaminated sites that needed redevelopment. And we needed to work with developers to find innovative solutions for transforming these sites into viable new commercial/industrial businesses. We are now known as a leader in economic development in British Columbia – a partner versus a single-dimension regulator of land use. The Brownfield Redevelopment Strategy really put us on the map!”
Mayor Schaffer believes that the success of any community is founded on relationship building and creating an internal framework to address business challenges, making it easier to grow along with the community and the region. When investing comes to mind, the City of Langley truly is “The Place to Be”.
AT A GLANCE
WHO: Langley, British Columbia
WHAT: A vibrant west coast Canadian city; population 27,000
WHERE: Metro Vancouver Regional District, British Columbia