Armed with more walking shoes than umbrellas, local business leaders, civic leaders and provincial government representatives hit the cores of West Coast business last week for Business Walks. In their midst, Minister of State for Tourism and Small Business Naomi Yamamoto listening for to success stories, barriers and discuss how government can help small businesses grow in their communities.
The Tofino-Long Beach and Ucluelet Chambers of Commerce led the planning and organizing of the walks, in partnership with both municipalities.
James Costello of the Tofino Business Association was thrilled with the opportunity.
“In gathering information from a sample of the 400 plus licensed businesses in Tofino, we have an excellent opportunity to not only identify their current status and challenges, but to work on addressing those issues with a wide range of support into the future,” Costello said.
Yamamoto chatted with business owners at stops at places like Remote Passages Marine Excursions, Cermaq, Mark Hobson Gallery, Salty Dolls Hair Salon, Crow’s Nest and Blackberry Cove Marketplace, where she bought a book on B.C.’s Nikkei fleet.
“This is an opportunity for different levels of government to go to a business instead of having the business having to pick up a phone and call … In the end, the Chamber of Commerce, the district and the province can see what things businesses are telling us … to make it easier for them to grow their businesses,” Yamamoto said, adding that a template for more frequent future Business Walks is in development.
The minister heard a number of concerns levelled at provincial government – among them, concerns for price hikes and service cuts at BC Ferries and the effects on tourism. Yamamoto’s portfolio includes both small business and tourism – and on the West Coast, many of the businesses she talked to expressed dependence on tourism for their business.
“I understand some of the concerns they raised and we will be following up directly with them. But I also heard a lot of optimism about opportunities for growth,” Yamamoto said. “The trend is an amazing confidence amongst business owners … confidence at all levels,” she said.
The surveys taken in places like the West Coast and Quesnel have been interesting, she said.
“Businesses are either steady or growing, and the number one reason we’re hearing is location,” she said.
“When small business thrives, so do our communities.”
Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne said small business forms the backbone of Tofino’s economy. “The Business Walk program allows me and my council colleagues to hear directly from Tofino’s small business owners about the successes and obstacles they face in doing business in this region, so we can help them to thrive and grow,” Osborne said.
Ucluelet Mayor Bill Irving walked Main Street with Yamamoto and leaders and volunteers from Ucluelet.
“The District of Ucluelet is very appreciative of the minister’s hands on approach to understanding and supporting small business,” Irving said.
At Tofino-Long Beach Chamber of Commerce, executive director Gord Johns heralded the opportunity.
“With approximately one business for every four residents in Tofino, we know how critical is that the voice of the small business be heard. We really appreciate the time and energy contributed by the Province of B.C. to this valuable exercise,” he said.
Businesses looking for additional resources or information will be provided with one-on-one assistance, the minister’s office said. Once the information and feedback is collated and analysed, community leaders can develop and implement action plans to support and stimulate the economic activity of the area.
That will be locally valuable, said Susan Payne, executive director of the Ucluelet Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Centres.
“The Ucluelet chamber appreciates the ministry giving us this opportunity to visit our members and community with a unified approach to supporting their businesses.
The feedback gleaned will be most important in moving forward with our strategic planning,” she said.
Ucluelet Realtor Dave Christiansen said Yamamoto’s visit highlights the West Coast.
“It gives people in Victoria and in government an understanding of the challenges of small businesses in smaller rural communities -particularly ours,” he said.