Economy down more than 80 percent, says report

_mg_3857_webTrent Ernst, Editor

The numbers are in, and, as expected, they’re not good.

Earlier this year, the District of Tumbler Ridge undertook a Labour Market Partnership Agreement Project, looking at the work force in town, as well as the employers, to determine the current composition and skills of the Tumbler Ridge workforce, as well as the labour market needs in town to identify what needs there were in town.

Of the people surveyed, just over 31 percent were unemployed and looking for work, while 30 percent of the population was employed full-time and another 25 percent were working part time or self-employed.

The remaining people were either retired, seasonal workers, disabled or otherwise unable to work, or simply not working and not looking for work.

However, according to the report, 46.7 percent of the respondents said they were considering moving.

More troubling for people looking for work in town was the results of the business survey. 55 businesses were contacted, representing major sectors including forestry, mining, transportation, tourism, retail and the public sector. These businesses employ 597 people between them.

Of those businesses, over half (52.9 percent) self-identified as being in decline. According to the report, “in three years there is only expected to be 329 employees.” And, according to Community Futures, who prepared the report, this is “an optimistic number in our view.”

Staffing levels have dropped considerably since 2013, with 44 percent of the businesses losing full time workers over the last three years. At the time of the survey, the workforce was fairly stable. However, “this may change if people are forced to look for employment elsewhere.”

About half the businesses surveyed were home based, or running a one-person show. Others reported having cut back to the bare minimum of workers, and to cut back more would be to go out of businesses.

Notably, the survey did not include employees from the District of Tumbler Ridge, which, with about 80 full-time and seasonal workers, is one of the largest employers in town currently.

Of the businesses that responded to the questions about annual sales, the average decrease was 85 percent compared to a few years ago. This has left many businesses in desperate circumstances, says the report. “They are trying hard to keep their doors open. They were hoping that there could be some type of wage subsidy to keep their existing staff. Most business had pared down their staff to an absolute minimum.

“Most businesses plan on being a going concern,” says the report. “but may not have the capital they need to wait out the market. There was a hope that local government can sometimes defer taxes for a certain amount of time in order to assist businesses.” Taxes make up about 40 percent of the average business’ revenue. “When revenues are down this can force a business into closing.”

One reoccurring theme, says the report, was the frustration at the cost of leasing in the downtown core. “Many businesses would like to see the cost of leases drop in accordance with the housing value drop.”

Finally, says the report, “we heard a lot of negative from businesses about how the District works with businesses. Many times it was noted that business is not welcomed and there are too many obstacles put in the way.”

The report offers a number of suggestions to improve the relationship between the business community and the District, including reviewing the current bylaws as compared to other communities within the region, developing a business engagement toolkit, and using the Executive Pulse Business Retention program to keep track of the businesses that have been interviewed.”

It’s not all bad news. Most of the businesses that were talked to for the report want to stay in Tumbler Ridge, doing everything that the can to keep the doors open.

The report will hopefully help the District and the province figure out ways to help the businesses—and residents— to be able to stay.