Whitehorse is the capital city of Yukon. It is also the major service, transportation, and government centre for the territory. The population of over 26,000 is growing and the city is expanding to meet the ever increasing need to supply goods and services Yukon-wide. As a regional supply centre, Whitehorse is also the largest service area for south-east Alaskan communities, Atlin BC, and for travellers enroute through Yukon and Alaska.
Yukon has a history of mining that goes back to the Goldrush of 1898. A strategic industry for Yukon and an economic driver for Whitehorse, this industry has once more come into its own in the past 5 years with soaring metal prices, a shortage of copper on the world market and an interest in global expansion from China. The close proximity to a deep water port in Skagway, Alaska is truly an advantage to shipping to Asian marketplaces, cutting at least a day and a half of sailing time from Vancouver. Whitehorse is well placed to take advantage of this industry. The airport, freight hauling, accommodations, food services, trained labour, and many other services, come from Whitehorse to serve the mining community. This increase in demand for services has resulted in an increase in the need for housing and industrial and commercial lots.
Tourism serves upwards of 300,000 visitors a year. This very stable industry has served the traveller enroute to Alaska since 1944 and now a growing number of travellers come via air to visit Yukon and Alaska. In recent years, the interest from German speaking Europe has resulted in direct flights from Frankfurt. RV travelers and fly/drives account for the majority of the visitation but coach travel has become popular again, especially if attached to cruising through Alaska as a “land package”. The majority of visitors are still older, over 50, but this sector is also often the most resilient in terms of income and has the most time to spend. Where do most of our travellers come from? Surprisingly Florida can often rate number 1 with visitors taking up to six weeks vacation in Yukon and Alaska. Whitehorse is very popular because many travellers have been on the road for a long time without finding a major centre. Whitehorse provides all the services a visitor needs – banking, hair appointments, auto servicing, windshield repairs, pet supplies, etc. The revenue stream goes throughout the community not just into groceries and laundry. Attractions and activities are busy in early summer and often our retail sales are heightened on the visitor return trip. This strategic industry often works well with mining. The hotel rooms and restaurants that are needed for visitors in summer and February, are busy in the Fall with the mining industry. Even the convention facilities that are busy Spring and Fall are used the rest of the year by a combination of visitors and mining service sectors. This symbiotic relationship with tourism and mining extends even to the adventure tourism sector. Many of the roads now used by adventure operators to take their clients into certain wilderness rivers, were put in by mining companies, and today many small airplane companies that take visitors into the wilderness, also make their living by hauling goods into mining camps.
The retail sector in downtown Whitehorse is very strong. The City of Whitehorse Mayor and Council, with the expertise of our Planning Department, have enabled the downtown core to remain vibrant with excellent planning choices. We are naturally framed by two access points – “Two Mile Hill” to the north and “Robert Service Way” which is our South Access. A concerted effort has been made to keep our retail sector within those two downtown access roads. The natural boundaries of the famous Yukon River and to the East and West the Airport have framed the City of Whitehorse retail district nicely. Whitehorse has a very active Chamber of Commerce and Main Street (Yukon) Society. Combine these two organizations with a plethora of arts organizations and Whitehorse is a shining example of downtown vitality. They have brought their memberships views to the planning processes and have vocalized the need to keep Main Street and the surrounding area the main retail district. Planning processes that have involved our residential community downtown identified an area ”Old Town”, a shopping core and a fast food area, plus a place for big box stores. All remain within our designated “Downtown”. By intentionally keeping our big box stores within the footprint of the downtown, we have effectively kept the beautiful little City of Whitehorse lively year round for our Citizens to enjoy and from being a drive-by for over 300,000 visitors who travel the Alaska Highway each summer.
Government, although not strictly an industry, is one of the major employer in Whitehorse with four levels of government centered here; Federal, Territorial, Municipal, and First Nations. Their residence in Whitehorse affects wages, commercial real estate, the price of housing, and the retail price index.