Returning to her hometown in 2017 has been a great move for Beth Veenkamp and her family.
She is the city’s economic development officer. Relocating brought her close to family and life is affordable here.
Born in Edmonton, she moved to Williams Lake in 1974 when she was one-and-a-half years old.
She attended Glendale, Marie Sharpe, Kwaleen and Anne Stevenson schools, but moved away with her mom Patricia Moberg and step-dad Rob Braund to Vancouver in Grade 10, finishing off high school in Richmond.
Despite living away from 1989 until she moved back, she and her husband Derek Veenkamp, who is originally from Port Alberni, visited Williams Lake often to see her family.
The Veenkamps have two daughters – Clare, 19, who is doing her second year at Thompson Rivers University and Ava, 14.
“Clare was my grandma’s name,” Veenkamp said.
Veenkamp and her husband lived in the Turks and Caicos Islands for three years and then moved to Kelowna in 2002 where she mom was living when they were expecting Clare.
After living in Kelowna for 15 years, where they had great friends but found it was expensive and difficult to find good paying jobs, she noticed the city of Williams Lake posted a part-time position in economic development.
Veenkamp’s mom had retired and was looking to move with her husband back to Williams Lake where he had grown up.
“When I got the job it tipped the scales for mom and Rob to come back too.”
Initially she was hired by the city of Williams Lake to run the Seeding Start Ups grant program for entrepreneurs, which was something she had background experience in.
When she arrived March 2017 and there were many vacant storefronts downtown.
A few months later the area experienced the 2017 wildfires.
Fast forward to 2021, she is working full-time as the city’s economic development officer and said it is difficult to find a commercial space to rent.
“There’s not much at all,” she said. “It’s crazy what’s going on here.”
Every single day she works on housing in some shape or form.
“Whether it’s interfacing with BC Housing or working with some of the projects that are close to starting but not quite there, or with smaller developers. I have that housing incentives program where we’ll give a $10,000 rebate.”
The rebate program is through Northern Development Initiative Trust for projects with four or more housing units and so far two projects have qualified.
She also the lead on housing study done for the city and Cariboo Regional District that was released earlier this year which showed there will be more than 800 new housing units needed in the region in the future.
“Housing is probably the biggest focus that I have and our whole team works on it daily. We are well aware it’s a serious issue. We are well aware that people are living in substandard accommodations. We just did that building bylaw that’s coming out although we kind of got some push back for it. But there are some places that people are living in that they shouldn’t be because they are not safe.”
Another initiative she’s heading up is an entrepreneur pilot program for immigrants to apply to come to Canada by investing in rural areas by starting a business.
So far one person has created a new martial arts studio through the program.
Another three people have been approved to come, however,Veenkamp has encouraged them to wait until we get a little further through COVID-19.
Williams Lake’s main sector focuses for the program are threefold: to attract people to start restaurants, develop programs for children and youth services and education, and administration of programs such as security or human resources to janitorial.
The Cariboo is also seeing ‘tons of people’ coming from the Lower Mainland and different areas looking to buy businesses while at the same time a record number of people have signed up with Community Futures for succession planning to sell businesses.
“That has been a real shift. That’s because of demographics and COVID. It went from one to 40 being registered in 18 months of people looking to sell because they are ready to retire. My job has been recruiting people to come and purchase those businesses because we don’t want to see them close.”
Veenkamp’s husband is a drywaller and is also working as a lifeguard at the Cariboo Memorial Recreation Complex.
“He likes it, it keeps him fit.”
The Veenkamps enjoy camping and spend most weekends with relatives in the summer.
“We did all the COVID things. I bought a puppy and then we got a trailer,” she said, chuckling, adding she has not bought an air fryer yet.