Michael Johnson from the MNP accounting and consulting firm

Economic conditions top list of business concerns

Recent survey indicates that uncertainty about local economic conditions is the biggest challenge facing businesses in Terrace, B.C.

Uncertainty about local economic conditions is the biggest challenge facing businesses here, indicates a survey of businesses done this fall.

The opinion was expressed by 73 per cent of the 200 businesses spoken with in the survey conducted by the MNP accounting and consulting firm in conjunction with the Terrace and District Chamber of Commerce.

The lack of skilled labour was listed as the second largest challenge at 40.5 per cent, and coming close behind were transportation and shipping costs at 36.5 per cent.

Government approvals and regulations, whether they be federal, provincial or local, ran third at just over 30 per cent while property taxes and the image of the community came in at under 30 per cent each.

The survey, presented in mid-November at a breakfast hosted by MNP and the chamber, is meant to provide a snapshot of business activity and business opinions.

Although uncertainty ranked high, one third of those surveyed indicated financial performance was about the same as 12 months ago with 29 per cent indicating it was better and 31.5 per cent saying performance had worsened.

As for employment, just over half of those surveyed said they employed the same number of people as they did 12 months ago. The number of employees had dropped for 22.5 per cent of businesses and went up for 22 per cent.

When thinking about the greatest challenges coming up in the next year, the lack of industry, job creation, and progress of major projects topped the list for 21 per cent of businesses, with staff being the second largest challenge at 16.5 per cent.

And when it came to top priorities for economic development, supporting industrial development was top at 15 per cent, with retaining existing businesses coming in second at 14.5 per cent . Third was improving infrastructure or business services at 13 per cent.

Nearly 46 per cent of those surveyed felt the business outlook would be the same a year from now, while 41.5 per cent thought it would be better and just 5.5 per cent thought it would be worse. There was 7.5 per cent who either said they didn’t know or gave no response.

When asked to list the most recent economic successes, Rio Tinto’s Kitimat smelter modernization project came out on top at 21 per cent with the early work on natural gas pipelines and gas liquefaction projects coming second at 16 per cent.

Fifteen per cent of those surveyed believed there were not economic successes while 12.5 per cent listed B.C. Hydro’s Northwest Transmission Line.

MNP Terrace partner Michael Johnson said he wasn’t that surprised by the results as reflected in the local economic climate.

“We’ve had a bit of a boom and now we’re into a holding pattern. It’s kind of what I expected.”

And while he did say that a large industrial project would boost the economy it might be a case of “being careful what you wish for.”

Johnson did note that in addition to businesses now worried by skill shortages, an economic  boom would be a challenge for all staffing levels.

Johnson, Anna Beddie from Misty River Books, Northern Savings Credit Union branch manager Grace Makowski and Coast Mountain Wireless president Rob Dykman took part in a panel discussion after the survey results were released.

Beddie picked up on the theme of staffing indicating that the younger generation work ethic is much different than it is with older people.

Still, Beddie continued, perhaps employers have to consider that staffing is a two-way street, emphasizing that the onus is on employers to provide training.

“Perhaps there should be training for the employer – teaching us how to be better teachers so that we can train better,” she said.

Dykman, whose telecommunications firm had a close up experience with the impact of recent large projects, acknowledged the challenge businesses have when “there is not that shining ball at the end  of the tunnel.”

“We need to put our heads together and work together,” said Dykman.

Cooperation was also raised by Makowski, saying the area needs to market its attributes.

“We have to remember how great our businesses are,” she said.

And as current longtime business owners prepare to retire, opportunities are created for the next entrepreneurial generation, Makowksi said.

“This could be an opportunity to attract people to the community,” she said.

MNP’s Johnson said that business growth is not just in the big projects, but it is found by growing the  small and medium size businesses as well.