Attracting Young Urban Creatives to Small Town B.C.

Kaslo

The Challenge

Small towns in rural B.C. are facing a population drain, as young people move to urban areas to seek education and career opportunities that they perceive as being unavailable in their hometowns. Population projections for 2011-2025 indicate that B.C.’s rural population will decline approximately 12%, presenting a real sustainability challenge for these communities.

The village of Kaslo (pop. 938) looks like a movie set, with its charming Victorian architecture and spectacular setting on the western shore of fjord-like Kootenay Lake. But like many rural communities, Kaslo lacked the marketing capacity to reach out to urban markets and promote itself, even though it has much to offer busy young city dwellers who may struggle with expensive real estate, traffic woes and big-city stress.

The Idea

Young girl in front of a boat on a lake, with mountains in the background

Enter the BC Rural Centre, a non-profit organization born out of the Southern Interior Beetle Action Coalition, with a mission of assisting B.C.’s rural communities and First Nations identify ways of tackling their most vexing challenges and seize their opportunities.

Gordon Borgstrom, executive director of the BC Rural Centre, was curious to see if an innovative social media campaign and contest could answer the question on the minds of many small towns: Are there any big-city Millennials interested in moving to a small, remote community like Kaslo, a white-knuckle hour’s drive north of Nelson? It turns out the answer was a resounding yes!

The Strategy

Randy Morse, BC Rural Centre’s communications director, brought together an advisory committee that included Kaslo mayor Suzan Hewat and Chamber of Commerce president John Addison. The school principal, other NGO leaders and community activists also got involved, with the BC Rural Centre providing vision and the missing capacity to run the social media campaign and contest.

BC Rural Centre put the money forward for the prize: winners would receive a travel stipend, four nights at the lovely Kaslo Hotel, meals, and would be immersed in the local scene. Morse worked with the community of Kaslo to create the kickoff materials for the contest, inviting young urbanites to explain why they were interested in a move from the big city to a small town like Kaslo. The contest went viral, reaching audiences across Canada and all the way to San Diego.

Contest winners standing in front of a historic house

The contest committee was inundated with entries, some in writing, others via video, all of them stating they would love to trade in their current lot in life for a saner existence in Kaslo. After extensive video interviews, the contest committee chose two families from Calgary and Victoria as winners.

“Right now we live with our two young daughters and our giant dog in Victoria. We’d love to come see what Kaslo has to offer and what we can bring to the community. Our dream is to figure out how to move to the Kootenays.”

Contest Winners

From the moment of their arrival on June 29 until their departure on July 3, these two young families were afforded an insider’s look at small-town life. Activities included a tour of the village’s spectacular K-12 school, a walk down Kaslo’s bustling Front Street to meet local store owners, a tour of Kaslo’s historic city hall, social events like potlucks and barbecues, Canada Day fireworks over the lake, and tours of Kootenay Lake. There were opportunities to check out local real estate, kick back on the beach, visit some of the town’s eateries and its craft brewery, and generally soak up the local vibe.

Both families left impressed, vowing to return — permanently.

“This is a world-class destination. World-class people, world-class artisans, everything here is world-class. It’s impressive!”

Contest Winner

Successes

Escape the City has shown there are indeed young urbanites interested in a possible move to a small town. The Kaslo contest has demonstrated an initiative like this can help a community come together, identify its unique strengths, then proudly share them with newcomers.

Kaslo now has a fan base of hundreds of folks who’ve made clear they’re interested in the town. The contest generated plenty of local buzz, not to mention regional and national interest, thanks to traditional media coverage. Perhaps best of all, Kaslo has already seen its population poised to increase by two — one of the winning families has sold their Calgary home and purchased a place in Kaslo!

The BC Rural Centre has gained valuable insight about how to launch place-marketing initiatives and is looking at additional collaborations with other remote communities.

Escape the City Contest Recap

Lessons Learned

  • Small rural towns can attract young urban families
  • Towns need to be clear on what makes their community unique
  • They need to mount an engaging, social media-centric campaign to attract attention, and ensure locals are enthusiastic and prepared to put their best foot forward
  • Build on the initiative by following up with a sustained social media outreach

Learn more about Kaslo's resident attraction efforts with speaker Randy Morse by watching the BC Ideas Exchange Showcase webinar

October 18, 2018