Most local businesses feel Tumbler Ridge is not business-friendly

Trent Ernst, Editor
 
The Small Business Engagement Final Report is out, and it reveals that a lot of work needs to be done. 
 
The report was unveiled at a recent meeting to discuss restarting a Chamber of Commerce. Small Business Engagement Coordinator Susan Schwab runs through some of the highlights from the report, including the question “In your opinion, what is the District doing well in regards to attraction, retention and expansion of local businesses?”
 
Ninety percent of the respondents said the District does “Nothing.” Eight percent said “They don’t pay attention” and only two percent said anything positive, saying “marketing.”
 
The report is based on three months of research and interviewing by Schwab. Who interviewed eighty businesses around town. “There were 224 Business Licences registered with the District’s database,” writes Schwab in the repot. “We found that there were 80 businesses that were inactive, meaning that the businesses were not in operation and/or were not interested in participating in the survey/questionnaire.”
 
64 of the businesses were from out of town, leaving the 80 businesses that Schwab talked to. She says that there are challenges facing small businesses, but they can be overcome with time and with dedication. “It is vital that we collectively find ways to ensure our small business community thrives and grows,” says Schwab. 
 
“The District of Tumbler Ridge is in crisis when it comes to the mentality of putting the cart before the horse,” she says. “This can be attributed to the past history and economic boom and bust cycle of Tumbler Ridge. There is good news, though, for small businesses in Tumbler Ridge. Small businesses are currently thriving. Solutions to the crisis we face can be solved with local innovation, community support and smart business decisions.”
 
Schwab says one of the first things that needs to happen is to get big business like mining and other resource companies to invest locally and shop locally. “We also need to get our local population to shop locally and support small businesses. Increasing communications and marketing opportunities both locally and provincially can achieve increased awareness of what is available locally.”
 
The majority of businesses in town have been going for less than ten years, with nearly half falling into the four to ten year category. Only 24 businesses have been here for longer than a decade. Well over half the businesses (55) are family-owned. In total, small business employs 377 full-time employees (including self-employed), 72 part-time employees and 31 casual employees. 
 
Problems facing local businesses include lack of available workers (with 10 respondents saying fair and 38 saying poor), lack of available space and taxes that are too high. According to the survey, the number one issue faced by most businesses is lack of affordable space to buy or lease. 
 
Lack of space is something that Roxanne Gulick has faced first-hand. Gulick is the office manager and bookkeeper out at Southpaw Rentals, which is co-owned by her husband, Randy. She’s also the interim chairperson for the executive group working on getting a Chamber of Commerce up and running in Tumbler Ridge. They decided just to build their own building, a process Gulick says wasn’t without issues. “We were fortunate enough that two of the partners have ties to Grande Prairie,” says Gulick. “And we were fortunate that this was our builder’s first commercial building so we didn’t have to pay top dollar. It was a learning experience for both of us. We wouldn’t have been able to function the way we are now if we hadn’t built. And we got it built before it went haywire. But even then we had to go out of town to find contractors and supplies. The lumber yard wasn’t in the position to supply us with that sort of stuff.”
Gulick says she agrees that Tumbler Ridge has a long way to go before it would be considered “business friendly,” but she says that’s why she’s getting involved with the Chamber. “I’m hoping the chamber will give us more of a voice at the District. When we built the building, we had to spend extra money to get the sewer up to code, even though the property was sold as a serviced lot. The District didn’t buy the lines deep enough, but we had to pay. If there are issues when you go to build, you will be able to go to the Chamber, and bring up these issues as a unified voice.”
 
She says that the collective voice of the business community should be able to get answers where individual businesses are not. “Hopefully with the Chamber being in place, and with the District in support of the Chamber, we hope that there’ll be better communication, and that the information is accurate.” She says that the potential for Tumbler Ridge is huge. While there might never be a huge retail sector, that’s not the only thing happening in town. “I believe in Tumbler Ridge,” she says. “I believe TR could be thriving. It’s a great community now, but it could be so much better. I wouldn’t have uprooted my life and moved here if I didn’t think this was a great place. There is just so much potential.”