Attitude is the most significant obstacle to business growth in the Alberni Valley.
That finding and others are contained in the city’s business retention survey, which was released by city economic development manager Pat Deakin on Monday.
The survey was carried out by a tripartite group including the city, the Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce and Community Futures.
More than 175 out of 721 licensed businesses were canvassed over six months as part of the $12,000 initiative.
Among the findings was attitudes within the community top the list of barriers to business growth in the Alberni Valley. Port Alberni has a poor reputation outside the community, and has oldtime thinkers and change resisters within.
It’s not attitudes towards business that is at issue but attitude about business that is, Deakin later said.
Also topping the list of concerns by business is the need for a second highway into town. This item was mentioned most often by interviewees, Deakin said.
A second highway is pivotal in improving all aspects of the economy, he added. But Deakin cautioned that it should not be treated like a ‘silver bullet’ solution.
More than 41 per cent of interviewees said the business climate is worse now than it was five years ago. But more than 75 per cent of them said the climate will be better in the next five years.
Deakin later admitted that the findings didn’t flesh out why nearly half of those surveyed felt the business climate was worse.
Among the other weaknesses cited were too many empty buildings, not enough high income earners and the appearance of the city, which needs beautification.
The Valley has its strengths as a place to do business though, including a friendly and loyal population, affordability and good lifestyle and recreational opportunities.
Many businesses are owned by elderly proprietors who are ready to retire, however 87 per cent have not identified a succession plan. The businesses are viable, Deakin said, but without a succession plan closure is a likely option.
Recruitment and retention issues have been identified, particularly in specialized industries. The food and beverage industry forecasts trouble hiring enough employees, Deakin said.
Despite this, 49 per cent of business owners said they were planning to expand over the next three years.
Of particular concern to Deakin was the finding that 41 per cent of interviewees rated the city’s economic development service as poor. “It’s a concern and I want to find out what’s going on,” he said.
Business owners also identified the waterfront and lower Third Avenue as issues.
People have to drive through lower Third Avenue to get to Harbour Quay, and lower Third “looks abandoned and devoid of life,” Deakin said.
Better signage is needed that steers people towards Harbour Quay and the waterfront, he said.
The survey and top 10 list of things to tackle will now be distributed to the business community for feedback.
The tripartite group will report back to council on a monthly basis to report on their progress.