Happy New Year to everyone and welcome to the first article from the District?s Economic Development Department for 2008. 2007 was another extremely busy year for the ED department, and the next one promises to be even more exciting. On the immediate horizon is the completion of the Retail/Service Expansion and Recruitment Opportunities Strategy (hereafter referred to in this article as the Commercial Investment, or CI, strategy), which was initiated last spring.
Simply put, the overarching purpose of developing this strategy is to facilitate an increase in the number and diversity of retail and service offerings in our community.
It is no surprise that Tumbler Ridge residents have been concerned with a lack of locally available retail and service choices in the past few years. This concern is compounded by the difficulties we experience in attracting new residents that feel they require access to a broader range of commercial amenities.
If our hope is to reinforce our town?s permanency and long term economic health by securing a larger population, retail and service offerings must be expanded. Taking the steps necessary to stimulate this investment is the combined responsibility of the District and the private sector. Further to this, investment into community expansion can only take place if gainful returns are expected. Unfortunately, we cannot secure new investment utilizing anecdotal evidence.
On the contrary, we need well-researched proof that confirms viable opportunities in order for our attraction efforts to be successful. As a result, the District took the first step in confirming both existing and future opportunities for investment through the development of the CI strategy.
Through an RFP process that began in 2006, Projects North Management Inc. (formerly Ryan Murray Management Services) was contracted to carry out the developmental work for the strategy. Work began in May of 2007 and included the usual base research done for projects such as this, such as the collection and analysis of statistics, reports and historical data. Most importantly, a survey of 32 businesses and government agencies operating in and/or around Tumbler Ridge was carried out. In particular, this survey not only collected base line statistical information about these businesses, it also gathered insights into their experiences in TR, the overall operating environment, and potential purchasing/supply opportunities. This area of information is extremely important because one of the main focuses of the completed CI strategy will be to continually improve the District?s competitiveness in retaining existing businesses and attracting new ones.
The completed strategy will identify specific, unfulfilled business opportunities that exist at today?s population levels and economic composition, and it will highlight future opportunities to come as our resident numbers grow. Thanks to the detailed responses provided by the surveyed businesses, we have been able to get a sense of the health of the local business community and the common challenges it faces. We are pleased to report that all the businesses surveyed have had a net positive experience doing business in Tumbler Ridge so far and, with the exception of two respondents, they have all expressed confidence in the long term economic outlook. Despite the overall positivity found by the survey, large areas for immediate and future improvement remain in the local business climate.
The draft CI strategy report submitted by Projects North suggests some business retention and expansion activities that the District can improve upon, within its legal function and scope as a local government. Final touches are being placed on the draft strategy documents so that they can be distributed for review and comment.
Recommendations on business retention and expansion activities to be taken on by the District and/or business community will be presented to local businesses for discussion sometime in February, prior to the strategy going to Council for approval and adoption. For anyone that is interested, please watch for an announcement as to when and where this meeting will take place. All businesses with an interest in Tumbler Ridge will be welcome to attend and participate to help ensure that the business community and the District work in harmony on improving our local social and economic conditions. Onward and upward!