Despite being dogged by manufacturing and shipping delays, trouble finding workers and mid-pandemic financial juggling, Aron Ashman and Mandy Mullen have opened up Ashman’s Smash Burgers at 301 Victoria St. Photo: Submitted

Despite being dogged by manufacturing and shipping delays, trouble finding workers and mid-pandemic financial juggling, Aron Ashman and Mandy Mullen have opened up Ashman’s Smash Burgers at 301 Victoria St. Photo: Submitted

BUSINESS BUZZ: Gettin’ a job, cannabis collective shares on sale

Business news from Nelson from Darren Davidson

by Darren Davidson

Only a few years ago, federal employment watchdogs were sounding the alarm over a looming nation-wide labour shortage, well before anyone had heard of COVID. But from Nelson to Newfoundland, we sure have one now.

Plainly: not enough of us are working. Instead, we’re taking. A federal investigation sleuthed out by The Globe and Mail reports that over 650,000 Canadians collected the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy the entire pandemic. Twice that — 1.5 million — were at least repeat beneficiaries.

Earlier this month 28 presidents and executive directors from 16 Kootenay chambers of commerce met at Ainsworth Hot Springs to discuss the precarious state of the region’s vital small business economy.

Labour — or the lack there of — was the primary issue of concern.

Are you having trouble finding workers?

The Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce and its partners at the Kootenay Career Development Society have a heap of programs and funding in place to help your business get back to full speed. KCDS supports all aspects of recruitment and retention, for employers and jobseekers alike, with an array of wrap-around services, some specific, others tailor-made. These programs aren’t being utilized. The Columbia Basin Business Advisory program and Community Futures Workforce Support are there for employers and employees too.

The rallying cry for locals to get back to work comes as The Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) and the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS) have now expired.

Ottawa has created new supports for hard-hit businesses and workers that will last ’til spring.

Having already doled out $95 billion to help employers rehire and avoid layoffs through wage subsidies — and $6.8 billion in rent help — there’s another $8 billion going into the new Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program and Hardest Hit Business Recovery Program.

The Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program will provide wage and rent subsidies for hotels, tour operators, travel agencies and restaurants — up to 75 per cent. The Hardest-Hit Business Recovery Program will help with wage and rent subsidy programs for businesses that have faced particularly brutal losses, with a subsidy rate of up to 50 per cent. Details should be on federal websites this week.

The feds are also extending the Canada Recovery Hiring Program, and increasing the subsidy rate to 50 per cent — until Nov. 20, and likely into next year.

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After a successful ride in the food truck business in 2020, Aron Ashman and partner Mandy Mullen are roarin’ down the restauranteur track.

Ashman’s Smash Burgers had a line-up down Victoria Street this past weekend after taking over the lease from Smokewood BBQ. Ashman’s mission? Great tasting burgers and fries at an affordable price with fast, casual counter service. The restaurant is located in Nelson’s grab-n-go corner — with Thor’s Pizzaria and new owner Mike Garbula to one side, Mexican go-to El Taco across the way, and a funky coffee shack a few doors down. Current hours are Wednesday to Saturday, from noon to 6 p.m.

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The future of Canadian cannabis — that’s the vision driving the $14.6-million Nelson Cannabis Collective (NCC), slated to open in just six months’ time.

The NCC team is now touring local business owners and potential investors through its four-storey, 28,000 square foot super-structure on Government Road, following approval from the BC Venture Capital Program (VCP), a provincial government effort designed to drive investment in B.C.

The NCC is now selling shares in the company. The VCP provides investors with a 30 per cent tax credit on their investment. A second offering, with Calgary’s Olympic Trust, will allow shareholders to set up self-directed RRSPs as well.

Having received their research and development license from Health Canada in July, NCC is on track to be North America’s first craft cannabis cultivation, processing and retail facility in a city centre.

The bold business effort comes as some large cannabis producers suffer layoffs and cutbacks in production, while the black market continues to shrink, according to NCC founder and CEO Phil Pinfold.

“We’ve been watching the big guys,” says Pinfold, “they’ve over-spent and over-grown. We’re right-sizing.”

The future, the NCC believes, is in craft cannabis — smaller scale licences and better-grown bud. NCC will produce between 2,000 and 2,400 kilograms of cannabis a year in its first tower and grow rooms, selling out of a main floor retail space. Plans are in place for a second tower.

The collective is also banking on provincial approval of direct sales and farmgate legislation, which will allow for sales directly to local stores and consumers, like wineries and craft breweries.

With as many as 60 jobs created at full build-out, Pinfold says the NCC is aiming to engage the expert level of the Kootenays’ cannabis legacy workforce.

“We talk to people all the time who say, ‘I just want to tell people I grow weed for a living.’ They’re proud of it.”

The NCC investor group includes Pinfold and his brother Peter, Mountain Culture Group owner Mitchell Scott, master grower Jamie Fochuk and lead investor/director Sam Feldman, a member of the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame and philanthropist, whose past clients included Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and Bryan Adams. For a viewing of the property and investment details visit nelsoncannabiscollective.com.

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Last week’s online open house on the contentious Zincton four season backcountry ski and mountain bike resort proposal was surely more tame than a live in-person event would have been.

Only 12 questions were fielded by the province’s Mountain Resorts Branch. The Zoom event didn’t provide any chance for back and forth between proponent and long-time New Denver businessman David Harley, his supporters or his opponents. Most of the questions regarded environmental concerns. The public comment period runs until Nov. 23 at https://comment.nrs.gov.bc.ca/applications.

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Speaking of skiing and real estate, long-time certified ski guide, avalanche forecaster and veteran carpenter Joe Pavelich has hung up his tool belt after 30 years and joined the realty ranks. “I’ve worked with a lot of people in a variety of environments and circumstances,” says Pavelich, a Nelson resident for 25 years who’s signed on with Coldwell Banker.

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A couple quick notes… The Kootenay Association of Science and Technology (KAST)’s Kootenay Pitch Competition final is Nov. 4 at 7 p.m. KAST has a new manager, Melanie Fontaine — we’ll introduce you to her next column, and we’ll share a great tale of high stakes telecom giant intrigue, following this month’s visit to Nelson from Rogers Communications’ CEO Joe Natale as the company prepares for a precarious $26-billion takeover of Shaw Communications Inc.

See you in November.