Anna Purcell

COLUMN: Self-employed? Own a home-based business? This column is for you

We know little about who the self-employed are, what they do, what their challenges are, and to what degree they contribute to the economy.

This past Saturday Touchstones Nelson Museum of Art and History held a laneway sale in the space between their building and the post office. The strange and wonderful items dredged up from archive storage for sale included boxes of mannequin body parts, piles of old Bibles and historical photographs, old-style razors, and a collection of antique cameras. A gem that I came away with was the Nelson Daily News of Jan. 28, 1939 — so much international news! Such small print! Such cheap haircuts!

An article on page five announced that, at that time, there were 500 businesses active in Nelson. Retailers formed the largest group, while second place went to lodging houses of four rooms or more. (There is something to be said about that last fact in light of our current shortage of affordable housing, but that is probably fodder for an article another day.)

Today we have more than 1,200 business licenses in Nelson, and the Nelson and Area Economic Development Partnership is currently set to learn as much as it can about our outstanding business community, with its business retention and expansion project. If you are a business owner and would like to contribute to this valuable study, please contact Anni Holtby nelsonBRE@shaw.ca.

There’s just one problem. Studies like the business retention and expansion project aren’t aimed well at capturing information about one key group: self-employed and home-based business.

At the moment it looks like about nine percent of Nelson’s business licenses belong to home-based businesses, but I’m sure that in reality home business and self-employment occupy  a much larger share of our economic activity.  The trouble is we just don’t know. These businesses are statistically invisible, and what we can’t see, we can’t understand the value of … or advocate for.

We know little about who the self-employed are, what they do, what their challenges are, and to what degree they contribute to the regional economy. Self-employed people are artists, musicians, plumbers, bookkeepers, programmers, writers, hair stylists, bakers, designers, consultants and more. Their impact is likely huge and important to understand.

To this end, I’ve created a short survey (only eight questions!) to begin to learn about self-employed and home-based businesses here in Nelson. The survey responses will be summarized and all individual information will remain anonymous. Once we understand this sector better, city planning and policy may be able to support it in a more meaningful way. It may show the way for local government and the Nelson and Area Economic Development Partnership to provide practical support for people working this way (including mutual support) — and may even help us attract others to live and work in Nelson.

Here is the survey: surveymonkey.com/r/Nelsonhomebiz.

Please feel free to complete it if you are self-employed and/or work from home, and please feel free to pass this survey link along to your self-employed or home-based business friends. Let’s begin to better understand this important aspect of how we live and work together.

Nelson city councillor Anna Purcell shares this space weekly with her council colleagues.

 

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