Economy, staffing named top challenges during business walk

Results looking positive for future of business in Terrace

The city plans to set up public workshops to help address three main issues identified in this year’s business walk.

The economic climate in general, and both finding and retaining qualified staff marked the two biggest challenges for the 50 businesses surveyed. Otherwise, positive findings point to optimism for future growth and satisfaction with operating in the area with a loyal clientele.

Many business owners said they didn’t use any business support organizations such as the Terrace and District Chamber of Commerce, Community Futures 16/37, or the Terrace Business Resource Centre.

“Most expressed pride in their ability to run their business without any sort of outside help and showed the belief that business support services were only used by struggling [enterprises], which is a challenge we hope to work on,” said Brian Doddridge, officer communications and business development for the City of Terrace.

City staff can work with business support organizations to promote their services through social media and periodic business retention and expansion activities, he added.

Human resource staff have also offered to give workshops and seminars to help employers with the skills to attract or retain employees to help businesses thrive, said Doddridge.

The business walk is intended to inform the city’s business and economic development efforts and local business support organizations. It was conducted May 10 with 50 businesses, all different from those that took part last year.

Randomly chosen, the businesses were located in multiple sectors in Terrace, Thornhill and the Northwest Regional Airport.

Volunteer interviewers asked six standardized questions so results can be compared to previous years. Neighbouring communities were also asked the same questions, said Doddridge.

The results reveal 40 per cent of businesses are growing, 40 per cent shrinking and 20 per cent holding steady. Compared to last year, fewer businesses reported holding steady and more were shrinking, but a similar number reported growing.

Looking ahead one or two years the results were also the same as last year, with the majority of businesses expecting to grow or stay steady.

Location and clientele were the two most popular answers for what businesses like most about doing business in Terrace. Respondents highlighted the loyalty of returning customers and neighbouring markets in Prince Rupert, Kitimat and the Nass Valley.

Thirty per cent of businesses noted economic challenges to be their biggest obstacle, up 12 per cent from last year. Retailers said consumers were more frugal due to a lack of disposable income.

Businesses who get direct revenue from major projects or resource sector development said lack of business was their greatest challenge.

Thirty-eight per cent of businesses said retaining qualified staff was a challenge; that was up 16 per cent. Popular responses included the inability to find staff willing to work part time or shift work, lack of entry level employees with customer service skills or work ethic, and difficulty retaining entry level staff.

Surprisingly, local competition was cited as a bigger challenge than online competition, but both were noted as issues. That could be because the businesses surveyed were chosen at random. Participants may not have included many businesses who see online competition as a bigger issue, said Doddridge.

On a positive note, parking, permitting and bylaw issues came up on quite a few surveys last year but were hardly mentioned at all this year, said Doddridge.

When asked what business services organizations they had used in the the past, 54 per cent of the businesses said they were chamber members, 14 per cent cited Community Futures 16/37, 10 per cent indicated the Terrace Business Resource Centre and 29 per cent said none.

Most had no comments or suggestions for what business support organizations could do to help businesses thrive here. A few asked to be updated on the status of major projects, and a few local businesses asked to join the Love Terrace program to help with marketing.

“The Business Walk is also an opportunity for City Council and our partner organizations to directly engage with our business community. As such, we want to ensure that a wide variety of business owners have a chance to have their voice heard,” said Doddridge.

“Municipalities also have an obligation to remain unbiased toward businesses, so we chose to take a random sample from businesses that [we] have not visited during a previous business walk.”

“We are hoping that our businesses will consider accessing some of the resources Terrace has to offer. There are opportunities for new and established businesses to expand their reach, improve their marketing efficacy, and manage economic fluctuation more smoothly.”

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