Stew Young has been Mayor of the City of Langford, population 50,000, since 1993, leading the municipality to become one of the most business friendly and highest growth regions on Vancouver Island. Under Young’s leadership, the business tax base has risen from 3 to 20 per cent over that time, and developers have flocked to the community to build single family homes, multi-family projects and commercial/institutional projects of all sizes. Business Examiner Publisher John MacDonald interviewed Young on his “From The Trenches” podcast recently.
MacDonald: What’s been going on in 2021 so far?
Mayor Young: Well, what we’ve been doing is much the same as we’ve been doing for 25 years – just trying to build an economy for the people of Langford, so they don’t have to work outside of Langford. Council has been great, they roll out the red carpet for anybody with a new business, and we make sure that we look after them and help them get situated in our town. We have a great Economic Development Committee that meets with potential people that want to invest in Langford, whether it be housing or a business, and also we work with Rugby Canada. All of the big sports facilities have great tenants.
We’ve been very fortunate to have four new schools announced, and three of the ones built so far are brand new. We’re hoping in the future to get a university because there’s 4-5,000 kids in Langford that are going to be leaving our town to go to university. Hopefully we’re going to get a good announcement on that very soon.
MacDonald: Did you change the way that you and your team focused on promoting investment for the area during COVID?
Mayor Young: We worked a lot harder. . .we had to do a lot over the phone and Zoom and even now our council meetings are closed and it’s video recorded. Our staff was just tremendous, and we’ve actually had more permits and building during COVID than we have ever had in the history of Langford.
MacDonald: You’re averaging about 5-6% growth per year. Where is that coming from?
Mayor Young: From all over, but the majority is from Victoria and Saanich and our own community. The Bear Mountain area is attracting a lot of people from Vancouver and Toronto and Calgary. Seniors are moving into Langford as well.
MacDonald: Is there anything else coming up for the rest of the year?
Mayor Young: You’re going to see higher buildings in Langford because we’re trying to get people to invest here. They’re higher, up to 20 to 22 storeys so we can get affordable housing and you can buy a condo for $300,000-$500,000 to live downtown, where you don’t need a car, and can walk around because we’ve got a lot of services. We’re looking at it as attainable homeownership. We’ll be bringing in a program to help the people that are renting and want a place to own so we will be providing some funds from the city to help. Some funds were collected over the last 4-5 years from development so we’ve got $3 million dollars already saved up that we’re going to be giving back as a credit to people that want to buy a home. That will happen in the next 23 months.
We’re doing revitalization in our downtown core as we go higher with our buildings. We’re doing a project which is the whole length of Station Avenue where we’re putting in a dog parks, beer gardens and wine and beer tasting and food trucks. It’s a meeting place, and we’ll have live music and a stage there, so there’ll be constant activity going on there.
MacDonald: I would say there’s a really assertive focus on bringing and building up businesses within the community. Was that something you set the tone for from day one?
Mayor Young: When I was first running for mayor, we had 20% unemployment. We purposely went after more businesses so we could raise Langford to a more even level of taxation from the business sector, which is better because then there’s less onus on the homeowner to pay for all improvements. I phoned Costco to come, I phoned Home Depot, and we went after a lot of the big boxes in the beginning to create a tax base.
We’ve tried to incorporate residential within commercial properties, so we put all the commercial down below, the residential above, and that’s starting to build our downtown core. We have lots of recreation and the lowest taxes in the region. It’s exciting to see the improvements over the last 30 years and we want to tighten up our downtown core, so we’re going to be doing this over the next year as we see a push towards investing in taller buildings.
MacDonald: Was the 20% business tax base a specific target for you?
Mayor Young: That was the target. I knew that with a 3% contribution from business for the tax base and 97% coming from homeowners, every time I wanted to build a sidewalk to put a streetlight in or build a recreation facility, 97% of that cost would go on to the residential home owner. The problem with that is that taxes would have been going up 6,7 or 8% a year to get those improvements. When you roll out the red carpet for business, you tighten up the bureaucracy, get rid of red tape and basically make it faster for that investment occur in our town than anywhere else. That makes jobs for the people that live in Langford. It directly translates to that. It’s not a myth. It’s actually true.
MacDonald: How has your approach to leadership changed since you started?
Mayor Young: In the beginning it was a little bureaucratic and it was hard to lead when there were five different things going on. As a council, we divided up the committees and we put one councillor in charge of each and we always had a pipeline to the general community. We took the wealth of knowledge from the public and we’ve got a lot of volunteers on our committees that help us make decisions and that’s really been excellent. We actually have really great people that are committed to Langford, that want to see Langford succeed and grow.
We haven’t changed much of our vision from 25 years ago: To keep taxes low, attract business and build recreation so everybody in Langford has the opportunity to go do something other than sit at home on the couch. There’s got to be something for everybody is probably the best way to describe it.
MacDonald: Do you have a favorite book or podcast?
Mayor Young: I like automobile magazines, and I looking at house designs. I like looking at new cars and technology and things like that.
MacDonald: What is the best personal advice you’ve received?
Mayor Young: Always make sure that you have a goal and that you work hard for it. And if you’re going to start something, finish it right, just carry on and, and be focused on what you’re doing. That’s part of cutting red tape and bureaucracy, and I’m very focused on that.