A lukewarm reception to the annual Business Walk —just 34 per cent of those selected responding—has prompted city council to ask how the important survey will be conducted next year.
A random sample of 112 businesses were contacted in Terrace and Thornhill, but when volunteer teams fanned out in the four-hour survey period May 2, only a fraction of those businesses responded. In some cases the owners or managers were absent, and with others there were concerns of sharing proprietary information in a competitive market. An online survey was subsequently emailed to the selected businesses with three reminders sent out to complete the survey over the following weeks, but still the survey netted only 38 respondents total.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to get that feedback and it’s a great opportunity for businesses to provide input,” said councilor Lynne Christiansen during the final report’s presentation at the June 24 regular council meeting. “Unfortunately in my group…we had four appointments but only managed to meet with one.”
Christiansen suggested moving away from the random selection model and instead inviting willing participants to reach out to the city for inclusion in the survey.
Councilor James Cordeiro however saw the current method of random selection as critical to future success.
“If we switch it to ‘here’s how you get ahold of us,’ you end up skewing the results,” he said. “Maybe it’s about getting more volunteers and going out over a couple of days instead of one.”
The report was compiled by the city’s economic development manager Danielle Myles, who was absent for the report’s presentation. It’s expected staff will review the study and their procedures at a later date.
Of those businesses who did respond, the 10-question survey revealed some positive trends.
Sixty-two per cent reported business growth with an equal number expecting further growth over the next one to two years, a 28 per cent bump in optimism over last year’s survey.
Forty-two per cent cited clientele as the primary reason they enjoy doing business in the area, while 28 per cent said location. A healthy economy, entrepreneurial support and networking were also listed as main reasons.
But when it comes to challenges, 38 per cent of respondents said the number-one worry is recruiting or retaining qualified staff. This number is up seven per cent from last year. Also of concern, affordability is impacting 30 per cent of businesses, up sharply by 25 per cent over 2018.
“Staffing has consistently been reported as a top issue in all four [years of the] Business Walks,” the report reads. “New this year is a higher than normal mention of cost issues, which include such challenges as transportation or shipping costs, real estate and housing, financing and taxes.”
But when asked what can be done by business support organizations to help fix the problem, 55 per cent of respondents declined to answer, and 61 per cent did not request further information or a follow up to the survey.
Homelessness and vagrancy, often discussed in the media and by downtown business owners, factored quite low in respondents’ outlook, although 15 per cent of survey respondents noted improving the situation would be valuable to help their businesses thrive.
Volunteer surveyors included members of city council, the Terrace and District Chamber of Commerce, the Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine and the Terrace Downtown Improvement Area. The majority of businesses surveyed were located in city limits.