H to M in our annual review of local business wheeling and dealing.
H — Homelessness. In the fall of last year, local Chamber reps sat in on a Canadian Federation of Municipalities call with 70 economic development pros wanting to learn more about the challenges facing Business Improvement Areas, or BIAs, across the country. A BIA is an organization of local businesses, commercial property owners and tenants who work with their municipal governments to make physical and economic improvements in their respective parts of town.
One main takeaway noted by numerous people on the nation-wide call: The No. 1 challenge facing main street entrepreneurs today is the perception by customers that sidewalks, streets and parking lots are not as safe as they used to be to shop or do business in. From heartfelt social services providers to workaday business owners to politicians trying to serve the voters who got them into office, this is a topic loaded with emotion and opinion.
The first step to any solution is understanding that the sense of danger is a perception created by what people see, not fact. Nelson Police Department stats show that a lot of street level crime is committed by a handful of the same perpetrators. There’s a big difference between someone who’s simply homeless, and harmless, and someone who for myriad reasons is a serial offender. The NPD’s plan to implement Community Safety Officers, putting more badges on the beat and building meaningful face-to-face relations, is a good step in an otherwise long journey for all of society. Homelessness isn’t going away. Worth noting — the Nelson CARES Society, the city’s remarkable social services agency, with its near $10 million annual budget — is one of the larger employers in the city.
I — Immigration and Relocation. For West Kootenay readers, the front page of the Sunday, November 25 Globe and Mail unintentionally cast a telling spotlight on the realities our once all-but-backwater hometowns face today, and more so, will face tomorrow. The top story: “Canada wants to welcome 500,000 immigrants a year by 2025. Can our country keep up?” and only a few headlines away: “B.C. residents priced out of housing market flock to Salmo, a sleepy village of 1,000.”
The two tales are daunting and promising all at once. People want a piece of our coveted and comparably cheap lifestyle loaf, partly because they can’t afford a slice where they’re living anymore. And with the nation’s aging population/worker shortage as pressing here as it is in the rest of Canada, we need new faces, from new places, near or far.
The city’s business sector and student population has been bolstered by fresh energy from around the province and the planet. Consider that Community Futures’ West Kootenay Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot received an Award for Excellence and Innovation last year. Since its launch in 2020, 126 West Kootenay employers have used the pilot to hire workers in health care, trades, childcare, professional services, and hospitality. The program has been extended through to 2024.
Some other numbers to understand: Between 1980 and 2015, only 385 immigrants moved to Nelson. Today, the city currently has 1,615 immigrants — 15 per cent of the population. Last year there were 585 international students at Selkirk College.
J — Jobs. Both a human resources and big-picture business challenge, finding workers has been as tough as keeping them. Even before the pandemic, employee turnover was over 13 per cent (in the U.S). Seven out of 10 organizations experience their highest turnover within a new employee’s first 12 months on the job.
Looking for work? Here’s who to call — Kootenay Career Development Society (kcds.ca/employer), Community Futures CK Workforce Support (futures.bc.ca/workforce), Basin Business Advisors (firstname.lastname@example.org), Nelson Chamber of Commerce (discovernelson.com/recovery.)
Trying to figure out ways to keep your valued employees? Some quick retention tips: remember that employee retention and engagement starts at the leadership level, so hire top notch bosses; really listen to employee feedback, and follow through; create and support an inclusive culture for all sexes, races and beliefs; invest in employee growth opportunities; go deep with exit interviews. Why are they leaving? Listen, and learn.
K — Know the numbers. Academics, economists and sales managers alike know that liars make numbers, but numbers don’t lie. And when it comes to knowing the numbers inside out, small business owners can tell it like it is.
The Nelson Chamber’s State of the Sectors series listened to 75 different business people in the region over a three-month period last year share thoughts on what was happening out there on the economy’s front lines. Here’s some telling figures:
Sales and revenues lost over the summer of 2021’s smokiest months amongst five stores in one West Kootenay retailer’s Alberta-B.C. chain was 20-to-40 per cent. Sales and revenue increase over that summer’s smokiest months amongst five stores in the same chain not impacted by smoke was 20-to-40 per cent. Cumulative loss due in those stores impacted by forest fires was as high as 80 per cent.
The number of Kootenay businesses assisted in e-commerce and digital marketing by the Kootenay Association of Science Technology’s DER3 Program — 260. “Reliability Rate” — percentage of orders that will actually show up from some Nelson retailer’s brands and shippers — 30 per cent. Number of restaurants, pubs and cafes in Nelson, Salmo/Ymir, South Slocan, Harrop/Procter, Balfour and Ainsworth — 70. Portion of Canadian restaurants that needed subsidies to survive fall 2021/winter 2022 — eight out of 10. Per cent that one local sub-contractor saw materials rise in cost in just two weeks last July — between 15 and 40 per cent. Added cost to one local builder to cover 2022 sick days for 47 employees — $80,000-to-$100,000.
L — First: Little is large. Small businesses account for 98 per cent of all businesses in B.C. With 510,700 small businesses in B.C., that means one-in-10 British Columbians are entrepreneurs of some kind. Sixty per cent of those business are owned by folks who are self-employed — without paid help.
Second: The Nelson Leafs. With penalties assessed and the national news cycle having forgotten about the local Junior B hockey club’s broohaha a few weeks ago, now’s the time for the community to reaffirm its support for the team. Since 1935, young athletes, businesses, billets and fans have been playing hockey with our hometown’s name across their chests. The Leafs currently have over 100 — 100! — businesses who place their company names on the boards at the arena. What’s more, consider the provincial award-winning work of the Nelson Leafs Recycling Centre. It’s the only eco-depot in the region, a source of four permanent jobs and up to eight part-time positions, many for people with diverse labour needs, and a steady partner with Nelson CARES and charitable causes including the Kootenay Lake Hospital Foundation, the Nelson Food Cupboard, West Kootenay Autism and most recently the Nelson Boxing Club.
M — Media & Marketeers. Broadcast news legend Knowlton Nash said journalism is the lifeblood of democracy, providing the streams of fact that lead to the rivers of opinion. Thanks to the federal government’s Local Journalism Initiative, the West Kootenay’s media corps — beat up only a few years ago by big drops in ad revenue and shrunken newsrooms — has been bolstered by the LJI. You now see the bylines of pros like John Boivan (Valley Voice) and Timothy Schafer (Nelson Daily) here in The Star. The LJI has Swedish newspaper and broadcasting pro John Rune now on staff at Kootenay Co-op Radio. And with new journalists now covering an additional 14 smaller communities across the country, CBC Radio has hired former Black Press reporter Corey Bullock as its new Kootenay reporter.
Beyond the journo fold, the local ranks of multi-media agencies has increased too — Tamarack Media is landing some great clients for its branding and communications savvy. Tamarack’s team includes owners Addison and Chase Rickaby, and Janneke Guenther of KikiCreative. Zan Comerford’s Lightworks Marketing is going strong from its Baker Street store front. A few other agencies to know: Fern Sabo’s Spring Creative Inc., Karen Kornelsen’s Peak to Moon Creative and Bradley Hingham’s Collabo internet marketing and web design.