Midway through Small Business and Manufacturing Week in BC, which promotes the role small businesses play in the provincial economy, the important economy sector is healthy in the Powell River area, according to civic and business leaders.
“We're seeing an increase in businesses being set up, different diversity of businesses and we have a number of small businesses that have chosen to move here to set up shop for quality of live and affordability,” said City of Powell River councillor and finance committee chair Russell Brewer. “I see a diversification happening and that's always a good sign.”
Signs are everywhere, from small startups hiring as few as five employees to larger businesses such as Santè Veritas Therapeutics taking steps to open. Once the medical marijuana facility begins its first phase of construction at the former Catalyst Paper Corporation administration building, it will provide jobs for about 30 to 50 employees.
According to city economic development manager Scott Randolph, businesses of all sizes are opening and their owners are optimistic about the future.
“In general, we’ve heard from businesses we’ve been interviewing through the business-attraction program that local businesses are doing very well or feeling fairly positive about the economy,” said Randolph.
Economic development office information collected from 221 business owners over two years beginning in January 2015 reflect that 45 per cent of respondents rate Powell River’s current business climate as good, 48 per cent believe the local business climate is better today than it was five years ago and 74 per cent said it will be better five years from now.
Statistics from City of Powell River for business licence applications and renewals support economic confidence. A steady increase in new licence applications, from 25 in 2012 to 76 as of October 17 for this year, have been received. For the same period, licence renewals total 547, above the average of 466. Currently, a total of 623 business applications and renewals have been received, almost 100 more than the 2012 to 2017 average.
In Powell River, small business growth in tourism continues to be promoted as a key economic driver and an area where small business opportunities exist. But there is more to small businesses modelled for the high season than dealing with tourists, according to Sunshine Coast Tourism executive director Paul Kamon.
“It goes beyond tourism into what's called the ‘visitor economy,’” said Paul Kamon. “Some people come here for vacation and others come for sports teams, even mill shutdowns for maintenance. A visiting economy is serviced by a variety of different businesses.”
Kamon said small businesses cannot be viable on tourism alone.
“With the local population and visitors who are here not just for vacations, they're able to make a go of it,” he said.
Not every small business is a success and some struggle depending on their market or product, according to Powell River Community Futures executive director Pam Krompocker.
“There are some who are on the edge,” said Krompocker. “There always will be.”
The sense that the area is experiencing strong small business strength needs to objective, according to Powell River Chamber of Commerce general manager Kim Miller.
“It hasn’t been steady; it hasn’t been consistent,” said Miller. “There are businesses opening and closing all of the time."
The hot housing market is a prime indicator of an upswing in small business activity. Real estate is just starting on the upcycle of a market that could last seven to 12 years.
Another indicator of growth is business reinvestment by expansion, according to Krompocker.
“There are a total of seven businesses we’ve been dealing with that have expanded their business this year,” said Krompocker.
Community Futures’ self-employment program, which provides financial assistance and development workshops on starting or purchasing an existing business, has been extremely busy, she added.
“We've had 15 new business open and a lot of them are storefronts,” said Krompocker.
Many of those new storefronts are appearing on Marine Avenue, which provides a visible accounting of the upward trend with new restaurants, coffee shops and retail outlets, even medicinal cannabis dispensaries, and fewer empty buildings have “for lease” signs in windows.
Marine Avenue Business Association executive director Cathy MacDonald concurs that the area now features more businesses. The organization includes 50 members and MacDonald said they are doing very well or feeling fairly positive about the economy.
“It’s good to be a small business if you can get through the red tape at city hall, and that’s the biggest problem,” said MacDonald.
Brewer said the city will be hearing more in the coming days about the need for better small business support from the city, Powell River Regional District, Tla’amin Nation, the province and federal agencies, as well as Powell River Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Powell River.
New business owners also require clarification about where to take their questions.
“The first step is more support staff and services at the front desk,” said Brewer.
Even though strength and stability is on display in the small business community, Brewer said the region is not yet fully in a state of transition from a mill economy to a new economy.
“I don't want people to get it in their mind that we aren't still reliant on the mill,” he said.
Brewer added that small businesses do make Powell River more economically resilient.