The Business Retention and Expansion reports for Fernie, Sparwood and Elkford have each been published by the Elk Valley Economic Initiative (EVEI).
EVEI officials said the cost of doing business was the biggest challenge faced by local businesses across all three communities.
“There’s not a lot that municipal government can do to affect the cost of doing business. We did make some recommendations in regards to finance, about just having Elk Valley regional governments review their fees and charges related to business development, particularly among micro and home-based businesses,” said Taylor Jenkins, Elk Valley economic recovery advisor. “Just gaining a better understanding of business loan offerings in the Elk Valley and what support organizations are there to help make sure these small businesses can grow.”
The three reports focus on the needs of businesses within each community. EVEI officials said the reports also include customized recommendations for Sparwood, Fernie, and Elkford.
“We really believe that with the action items outlined, we will work on them through our partnerships. I think the biggest take-away is that this is not a one and done report, and we plan on doing this again in three years,” said Jenkins. “We’re really hopeful that this report will result in some improvements to the quality of life in the Elk Valley.”
This follows a larger report that covers the Elk Valley as a whole.
More: Elk Valley Business Retention and Expansion Report (Elk Valley economic initiative)
Jenkins said businesses are finding it hard to get employees because living in the community can be too expensive.
“The cost of living was highlighters as the largest issue in the community, as well as the largest issue affecting employee recruitment,” said Jenkins.
He mentioned that the EVEI will work on a cost of living analysis for Fernie.
“It was recommended that the EVEI calculate Fernie’s living wage. This will increase the affordability of workers and decrease their cost of living and help businesses with employee recruitment and retention,” said Jenkins.
According to the EVEI report, the average entry-level wage for workers in Fernie is $18 to $21 per hour.
Jenkins said he hopes the report will be finished within the coming months.
More: Fernie Business Retention & Expansion Report (EVEI)
In Sparwood, businesses have had difficulty finding places to operate.
“One of the biggest things identified as a business barrier was the availability of buildings for lease and purchase,” said Jenkins. “We recommended that Sparwood take a proactive approach and build communication with local businesses to see if there are any barriers to developing their vacant commercial or industrial land.”
Businesses that only operate in Sparwood have issues with a small market and low population.
Jenkins said the EVEI highlighted that marketing Sparwood beyond the Elk Valley would help.
“We recommended that the Chamber of Commerce really start promoting Sparwood tourism and do a shop local campaign,” said Jenkins. “It seems there’s not a lot of awareness about Sparwood and the mining job opportunities and the outdoor recreation beyond the Elk Valley.”
More: Sparwood Business Retention & Expansion Report (EVEI)
Jenkins said Elkford has a large number of home-based and micro-businesses.
He commended Elkford’s recent efforts to support small businesses in the community.
Smaller businesses face a similar issue as Sparwood, as they struggle with a smaller market and more isolated location.
“The recommendation here, again, is to promote Elkford past the Elk Valley and gain more data on labour force requirements and the so-called ‘shadow population’ of Elkford,” said Jenkins. “They’re really recommended to promote Elkford as a place to live and encourage families and workers to live in Elkford.”
According to Jenkins, ‘shadow populations’ are people who live or work in a municipality on a seasonal basis but are residents elsewhere.
“They often use municipal services, but are not paying taxes and are likely not shopping or supporting local businesses,” said Jenkins.
More: Elkford Business Retention & Expansion Report (EVEI)