What does it take to do business in Port Alberni? What should municipal leaders be doing, if anything, to keep business here?
Economic development manager Pat Deakin and chamber of commerce officials are hoping a business retention survey will answer these questions and give the city a better picture of how business owners play into its economy.
Between now and March, incoming chamber executive director Bill Collette and a small team of helpers will be going around to different businesses, interviewing owners.
Originally, Deakin had hoped to cover at least 400 of the 660 businesses in Port Alberni, but he and Collette have since realized that goal was too lofty for the time limit Collette is under.
“For a community of this size, if you did 200 businesses in a year that would be successful,” said Colleen Bond, a consultant with EDCD Consulting from Kelowna. Bond was in town last week to train Deakin, Collette and other chamber of commerce members on how to conduct the survey and input the data.
“It’s quite a task; a lot of conversation is going to happen,” Bond said.
The survey has been created and endorsed by the Economic Development Association of B.C. and is available to any of the 71 member communities. Bond and the firm she works for have helped several other businesses on Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland to undertake the survey.
The confidential survey is 90 questions long and examines the labour force, what business’s needs are sales wise, forecasting in the next three to five years how economic development can help and how the community and its partners (such as the chamber of commerce or Community Futures) can help.
“We want to know what businesses think about the community itself and what it’s like doing business here,” Bond said. “We got the good, the bad and the ugly.”
Once the report is finished, its findings should help the business community identify its strengths to build on and find out which weaknesses need work, she said.
Interviews began with Uptown businesses but will include others, Deakin said. “We’ve chosen to start the business retention survey with Uptown merchants, service offices and manufacturers because we are all concerned about the Uptown,” he said. “There are stakeholders organizing to address the concerns.”
Gayle Stephen-Player, who is president of the Uptown merchants’ association and also owns Gayle’s Fashions, said the survey is important to gauge how well Port Alberni retains business. “Keeping businesses (that are) here already, keeping them alive and well is very, very crucial, as is attracting new business,” she said.
Bond said it is a misnomer that growth happens when new businesses are brought into town. “Up to 80 per cent of new jobs created in a community actually come from the existing business base,” she said.
Collette, who is moving to Port Alberni from the Oceanside area, has never participated in such a business survey, but wishes he had been able to. “I’ve been a business owner and would have loved to participate,” he said. “We all have a voice. We all have issues and concerns and desires. If you can get a collection of those thoughts together, you might find there is common ground.”