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Revelstoke on the rise with remote workers and digital nomads

They used to call it “telecommuting.” But even now that seems like an antiquated term, one that Silicon Valley brought to life some 20 years ago when it began empowering Californians working in tech to put in hours at computer terminals outside the office. Then it extended beyond tech, to the tech-enabled, as San Francisco passed the torch to Seattle, and communications technology born from these places gave longer leashes to working people across the world: architects, graphic artists, engineers, publishers, you name it. Next came cloud computing, and fibre optic internet, with its lightning speeds. Any work done on a computer—increasingly all work—could now be done anywhere with a good connection. And since these connections have now reached small, quaint places with huge lifestyle benefits, the workers have followed. Today, you can be employed in Seattle, but live in Revelstoke.

Photo: Steve Shannon

In a 2017 survey, Regus Canada found that 47 per cent of Canadians worked away from the office, and growing. A trend that’s on the rise in the U.S., too. It’s a sweeping movement that Revelstoke is now at the forefront of. Since the Kootenay region first got fibre-optic internet in 2014, digital nomads have been flocking to our fair valleys. But, why give up the booming scenes in California and Washington for rural B.C.?

“These are all cliché answers,” says Karilyn Kempton, a 10-year Revelstokian with a generous smile and extensive background in both business and tech. “People move here because they love the lifestyle and they can work remotely and we have screamin’ fast internet.”

Karilyn and her husband, Simon Wex, a software designer, moved to Revelstoke from Vancouver a decade ago. For the last two years, she’s administered the 6,700-person town’s official tech strategy. At a time when more people than ever are seeking nature, what Revelstoke offers is a traffic-free Victorian burg hemmed by the Monashee and Selkirk Mountains, where everything is out your back door. The landscape is dotted with glaciers, pristine water ways, trails, crags and outdoor recreation on a world-class level—under the shadow of North America’s longest ski resort, tucked in the midst of an inland rainforest that gets more annual snowfall than almost anywhere in North America. Add in temperate summers with too much daylight to know what to do with, and Southern California pales in comparison.

Still, historically, people with serious professional ambitions have had a hard time making a go of it in places like Revelstoke, with its blue-collar heritage. But Karilyn’s spent the last two years lacing together the pieces of an organically growing professional ecosystem that’s changed all of that. A big part of what’s gelled the tech scene in the last two years is a hearty series of monthly tech meetups, often happening at the increasingly bustling hub of the Revelstoke Mountain CoLab Cooperative, one of two co-working spaces in town. Having a central space for people to congregate and discover each other has been clutch, Karilyn says.

“It was good for building a sense of community, because I think a lot of people were working remotely didn’t feel like they had any peers, and it’s easy to just talk about skiing with everybody, but then suddenly you realize, ‘Oh I can actually talk about software development with this guy that I just met. He’s speaking my language.’”

Photo: Tom Poole

It’s from this scene that Aaron Davidson also grew Cronometer, a nutrition-tracking app that’s had over 2 million subscribers and now employs 20 people, while technically still in “startup” mode. While Cronometer’s grown and moved into its own office, other small businesses still glide by happily in the CoLab, like Nathan Bertram’s True Perspective, a small software-development company. Nathan comfortably shares the space with 70 other active members, many even on month long “workcations,” ironically, from places like Seattle and San Francisco. It’s equally a good spot to meet folks to sneak out for morning powder laps and mountain bike rides.

From the tech strategy also came the Revelstoke Fabrication Lab Society, which has secured more than $200,000 in funding to bring a high-tech community fabrication space to Revelstoke for everything from hobby tinkering to extensive prototyping. Couple that with the local library’s plans to build a multimedia studio as part of their own tech lab, a community studio space at the local art gallery, and a community wood shop, and there’s nothing you can’t build here.

But a big part of why people choose to build their businesses in this transforming rail and lumber town is the financial infrastructure. Community Futures Revelstoke and Startup Revelstoke are two local business-seeding engines that provide everything from financing to free business coaching. But what’s more significant, according to Karilyn, is the self-supporting matrix of people they’ve brought together under the same town banner. That’s the true fire in Revelstoke’s tech engine.
“You can meet other people who are doing the same thing,” she says. “It’s like guaranteed friends. You meet people with similar mindsets who want to be able to have a lifestyle they couldn’t have in the city, while still having their city job. It’s the best of both worlds.”

Written by Matt Coté.

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