Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne will coordinate and moderate a discussion on how municipal governments and small businesses can work together at the Vancouver Island Economic Alliance’s two-day summit in Nanaimo this October.
“As a small business owner and now as a member of Council, it’s really important to me to overcome that “us vs. them” attitude that too easily develops when there’s not enough dialogue and understanding between the business community and local government staff and officials,” she said.
“What I learned during the Tofino Business Walk has given me a lot of food for thought for that workshop.”
Osborne recently participated in Tofino’s first Business Walk alongside Minister Naomi Yamamoto and representatives from the Tofino Long Beach chamber of commerce and the Tofino Business Association.
She saw the walk as an opportunity to hear about the obstacles local business owners are facing and the successes they’re celebrating.
“We wanted to know what they like about doing business here, what makes it challenging, and where local government could help,” she said.
She said Tofino’s Community Economic Development Advisory Committee had tossed ideas around regarding conducting a business survey in Tofino when the Province pitched their business walks idea to the district office.
“After successfully delivering it in the Okanagan and Quesnel, they were looking for smaller communities to try the program in. Needless to say, we were extremely pleased to see their interest,” Osborne said.
“It’s a great way for the Province to partner with communities so we can all learn more about the state of small business as well as what improvements can be made at the local government and provincial level to assist small businesses.”
She said the walk exceeded her expectations although the walkers were unable to visit all Tofino’s businesses.
“With over 425 business licences issued each year in Tofino, it would have been impossible to visit all of our business owners, but I was very happy that we were able to reach over 50 businesses, mostly in the downtown, Gateway and Industrial Way area,” she said.
“I was so pleased with the warm reception and the very constructive feedback that business owners and managers gave us.”
She said it was hard to keep each meeting under 10 minutes because of Yamamoto’s interest in listening to a business community interested in speaking.
“I wasn’t sure how frank business owners would be with us about the state of business or what their challenges are, but I was really pleased with how honest they were with us, making some very constructive suggestions in the spirit of improving the business climate in Tofino in general and not just their own particular business.”
She said location and clientele were the two most popular picks for what people liked most about operating a business in Tofino and that “many” businesses suggested their business could not survive without Tofino’s visitors.
“More than a few business owners commented about how it just ‘made sense’ to set up a business in Tofino since we have hundreds of thousands of visitors coming here every year and they love the lifestyle they can have here.”
She said Tofino is marketing itself well to the international community.
She added that strong visitorship does not directly benefit all businesses like insurance providers and financial services but that over 80 per cent of the businesses visited reported their business was steady or improving.
“Several owners commented that 2013 had been a ‘best year on record’ and many commented that the effects of the 2008 recession were subsiding or had disappeared,” she said. “My goal is to see 100 per cent of our business reporting that business is steady or improving.”
The results of the survey will provide a ladder of feedback to help Osborne reach this lofty goal.
“It’s going to take a while to get the results of the walk collated and summarized, but in glancing over the data sheets, I can clearly see that the interplay between affordable living, wages, and seasonality creates some significant challenges for business owners,” she said.
“Tofino can improve in several areas, but probably two of the most important are for local government to really tackle the affordable housing issue and to create a more clear and level playing field for bylaw interpretation and enforcement; especially regarding signs and parking.”
She said Tofino’s municipal office could play a role in bettering these conditions through affordable housing initiatives, working with Tourism Tofino and the chamber, and maintaining a steady flow of communication with business owners.
She said she’d be stoked to conduct a Business Walk in Tofino every year and added a different area of town or different business sector could be focused on each time. “Business owners are the eyes and ears on how people move around in town, where they go, and what they like to do; we’d be foolish not to listen to them,” she said.