Biz folks in the area are generally quite happy with how things are going, report the mayors from Trail, Fruitvale and Rossland.
The three officials and their council members joined the ministry and local economic development leaders in a walkabout town and city during last week’s first Business Walk in the Lower Columbia Region.
Knocking on doors of more than 100 businesses from the Gulch to East Trail, Glenmerry and Waneta wasn’t just a one day experience (Oct. 19). The event highlighted the opportunity for ongoing engagement with the small business sector, says Trail Mayor Mike Martin.
“My coverage area was Cedar Avenue, so I speak for what I personally experienced,” he explained. “But I truly believe the businesses were pleased to see us out and about gathering information about the status of the business community,” added Martin. “And they freely shared their views to the number of questions we posed.”
Martin’s immediate takeaway was businesses are generally doing fairly well, though he acknowledged comments of inadequate parking including handicap zones, as well as lack of foot traffic.
“So anything the city can do to help promote that, primarily through increased density of housing within the downtown could be beneficial – that seemed to resonate well,” Martin indicated, referring to the city’s goal for development of Esplanade lands.
Face-to-face talks, however, mostly revolved around council’s direction to rejuvenate the downtown core.
“There was strong support,” he said. “And there seemed to be excitement with the things that are happening right now, with the pipe bridge and new museum library.”
Rossland Mayor Kathy Moore reflected on the city’s Oct. 20 walk, saying time flew by as valuable feedback was gained. And, along with many positives and a generally happy business community, some negatives were noted.
“They loved the renovations done to the downtown,” said Moore.
“But parking and signage for parking is still an issue,” she added. “And there were some negative comments about Rossland’s high taxes.”
In Fruitvale, Mayor Patricia Cecchini made the team rounds, and reports, “As a rule, business seems to be really good.”
Most businesses revealed they’ve seen increases, said Cecchini, but she did note one exception.
“One business had seen a significant decrease with with the Waneta Dam project completed,” Cecchini explained. “(Overall) it was a great opportunity to touch base with the business owners in our community. We were able to share the LCIC initiatives and show them where they can get support, and that seemed to be well received.”
One aspect all three mayors noted was the lack of succession plans in their respective business communities. Meaning, many don’t have a plan in place should they exit their business through retirement or sale.
Another common thread was difficulty finding and retaining employees – skilled or otherwise.
Martin heard about challenges with hiring people committed to working in the retail and service sector in downtown Trail; and Cecchini noted rural employers had difficulty finding and retaining skilled apprentices and labourers.
The Business Walk was a partnership facilitated by the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training, the Trail and District Chamber of Commerce, services providers, municipal leaders and the Lower Columbia Initiatives Corporation (LCIC).
“People really appreciated the resources we mentioned to them,” said Moore. “And the handout the LCIC and ministry put together was a great tool, people had no idea what was out there.”
The LCIC’s Terry Van Horn is compiling a summary of the walk that will be presented at upcoming council meetings.
“I think the whole initiative was wonderful and I give a lot of kudos to the LCIC and the Ministry of Jobs and Tourism, who provided support for this initiative,” Martin concluded. “It fit in really well with the work the chamber is doing on small business recognition.”