Tom Thomson of the Nelson & District Chamber of Commerce has identified the Castlegar airport as a problematic drain on economic progress.

Chambers meet to discuss Kootenay improvements

Castlegar airport identified as problematic drain on economic progress.

Chambers of Commerce from across East and West Kootenay met recently to discuss some of the issues facing the area and had preliminary discussions about how to address ongoing concerns.

One of the most pressing issues identified was the West Kootenay Regional Airport, which many have dubbed “Cancelgar” due to its unreliability.

“There are some issues clearly with that airport and we try to take that as an advocacy position on a regular basis,” said Tom Thomson, executive director of the Nelson & District Chamber of Commerce. “One thing we wanted to ask was are other airports having the same concerns we have?”

Thomson said that currently pilots aren’t allowed to land if the ground isn’t visible from 3,000 feet, a regulation introduced by Transport Canada. Recently the US lowered their visual ceiling to 2,200 feet, a move they’d like to replicate here.

“Right now if the pilot can’t see the ground, they circle around and if it doesn’t open up they fly back to Vancouver. Castlegar’s currently asked for an exemption, but if it isn’t granted we should connect with other communities, partner with other chambers that utilize our airport, and see if we can develop a provincial policy and take it to the BC Chamber AGM.”

He said the discussions were only preliminary, and it may be some time before the change is made. But once it does, the benefits will be immediate.

“They’ll have increased reliability and ridership. Currently some people drive to Cranbrook or Kelowna to ensure their flight is going to be successful, and that can be challenging in the middle of winter. From our perspective of Nelson and Castlegar, this is a primary concern.”

The chambers also identified the provincial nominee program for foreign workers as worthy of further discussion. Legislation has been introduced that means foreigners can purchase businesses and take them over, but the chamber has some concerns about how that process is currently going.

“We did a business retention and expansion study a number of years ago, and at that time 55 per cent were of business owners were planning to exit their business in the next 5 to 10 years. We’ve got an aging demographic. Years ago Grandpa would own the business, then hand it down to his daughter, and she’d hand it to her son. But the changing work climate and new technology have come in, some businesses are more or less viable than others, and that trend is starting to disappear.”

He said the Nelson Chamber of Commerce believes embracing the program is a good way to stimulate the economy and get new residents and businesses into the area. However, the lengthy application process has caused a number of problems.

He knows two businesses in Nelson have already inquired into the possibility of using the provincial nominee program. Unfortunately, the process can be quite lengthy.

“They have to explore a business opportunity, find a business opportunity, develop your business case and develop all your paperwork then submit your application. You also have to have an agreement on the sale,” he said.

The 8 to 10 months it takes for the applications to be approved is way too long, said Thomson.

“It becomes problematic for a business that’s committed to selling and they didn’t know they have to wait a year to find out,” he said.

The chamber hasn’t yet decided whether they’ll stop advocating for the program, or perhaps explore ways to speed up the process. There are a number of ideas on how to approach it.

“Do we continue to promote this program if it take so long?” asked Thomson.

“What we want to say is the program is good for rural BC, as it gives us an opportunity to attract new investors and residents to our community and to build our tax base. But we need to find a way to speed up the process.”

Thomson said he was happy with how the meeting went, and said it was a great opportunity to liase and collaborate with nearby communities.

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