Stephanie Van de Kemp witnessed family after family leaving the Columbia Valley because they couldn’t afford to live here and build the future to which they aspired. As she watched them go, she determined to do what she could to help the Valley retain residents who want to stay.

Last month Cleanline Automotive – the company she owns with her husband – became the first official living-wage employer in the Columbia Valley.

With a young family of her own, Ms. Van de Kemp knew how fortunate she was to have quality time with her children. Many other parents have to work two or three jobs just to pay the bills, she said.

Offering a living wage is a meaningful way to improve lives, to address poverty and to help families achieve their goals, Ms. Van de Kemp said. Paying parents higher wages benefits their children as well. As income increases toward a living wage, children’s health also improves, she said.

The Living Wage for Families Campaign works with communities across the province to calculate the local living wage. The living wage for the Columbia Valley is $18.25 an hour. The calculation is based on a family of four with two working parents and two children. The wage factors in housing, food, clothing, childcare, some savings and other basic necessities.

Deanna Ogle, an organizer with Living Wage for Families Campaign, said providing a living wage is an excellent way for employers to reinvest in their communities and to prevent their employees from experiencing “working poverty.”

Living wages tend to be higher in communities with tourism economies due to housing constraints and childcare costs, Ms. Ogle said. The cost to live in the Columbia Valley is on the lower end in comparison with other tourism-based communities, where the living wage runs from $18 to $19 an hour or higher.

Ms. Van de Kemp hopes other employers will join Cleanline Automotive in paying a living wage.

While some employers may not feel that they can afford to provide a living wage, she said the calculation also includes optional benefits they may offer their staff, such as meal or fitness allowances.

Offering a living wage is a smart business decision, Ms. Van de Kemp said, adding that “employers often underestimate the cost of turnover.” When staff leave, there can be exorbitant costs associated with recruiting and training their replacements.

“As an employer, if we want to attract good employees and keep them, really, we have to pay them well,” she said.

Ryan Watmough, the Columbia Valley Community Economic Development Officer, agreed that paying living wages is good for businesses.

“It’s much more expensive to attract and train new employees than it is to retain existing ones,” he said.

Mr. Watmough said he is pleased to see Cleanline Automotive committed to paying a living wage and said that the business’ decision has sparked conversations with other employers. He said that while Cleanline Automotive is the first certified employer in the Valley, other employers may be offering living wages independently of the certification process.

Whether or not employers are certified, paying a living wage will “make sure (employees) can be successful and not mortgage their future,” he said.

If you would like to certify your business as a Living Wage employer, call 604-975-3347 or info@livingwageforfamilies.ca or visit www.livingwageforfamilies.ca.