Developing Fernie’s first coworking centre is a top priority for new Chamber of Commerce Executive Director, Brad Parsell.
The 35-year-old Kiwi is about a month into the job and has wasted no time in tackling the big issues facing businesses in Fernie.
One of those is the need for a shared work environment for freelancers, remote workers, solopreneurs and small companies.
“We’ve heard loud and clear over the past few years that people would really like something like that, we have calls about it all the time,” said Parsell.
He said a feasibility study commissioned by the Chamber in 2017 using grant funding from the BC Rural Dividend program found “overwhelming” demand for a coworking centre in Fernie.
He envisages it becoming a hub for the business community that could also be used for workshops and events.
“The biggest challenge with this project is finding a commercial space in town,” he said.
Parsell brings a wealth of experience to the Chamber, having worked in management roles since he was 19 and completing a Bachelor of Business with a double major in management and marketing.
He moved from Australia to Fernie with his girlfriend Averil Morris in the fall of 2013 and started at Fernie Lodging Company as a housekeeper.
The couple quickly fell in love with the Elk Valley and was soon applying for permanent residency as Parsell moved his way up at Fernie Lodging Co.
He worked in a variety of roles before being promoted to general manager in 2016.
Parsell has served on the Tourism Fernie board and Fernie Ambassador Program taskforce, and is excited to join the Chamber.
“What I really got out of that is this feeling that I really enjoyed working for the whole community, as opposed to just one business or one person,” he said.
“It just seemed like such a unique opportunity to do something along those lines. (Former Executive Director) Patty had done an incredible job… so I felt like it was a good organization, it was a good time to come in and see what I could do.”
Employee retention remains an ongoing issue for Fernie businesses and one that Parsell is determined to find a solution to.
After six years in the accommodation industry, he knows firsthand how difficult it can be to attract and retain staff in a seasonal town.
“I’m very happy to see it’s on our strategic plan at the Chamber this year to really address that head on,” he said.
“I’ve actually already been doing some work with Brenda Sutherland at WorkBC to see what we can do about attracting more employees and more skilled employees to Fernie, and retaining them. Staffing is huge. Folding into that would be the housing issue as well, staff having trouble finding places to live.”
Another issue on Parsell’s radar is accommodating growth in Fernie’s downtown core.
He said businesses often contact the Chamber wanting to open a storefront on 2nd Ave but are unable to due to a lack of commercial space.
“One way or another downtown has to expand if we’re going to get bigger, if we’re going to attract more businesses or current businesses are going to expand,” he said.
“These are all major issues that aren’t going to be solved overnight but it’s something we’re really trying hard to work on.”
Parsell believes collaboration and clearly articulated goals are key to achieving this, and the Fernie Tourism Master Plan will be fundamental in orchestrating this.
He shared his vision for Fernie.
“What I want to see is Fernie continue to grow and attract really interesting, entrepreneurial people to animate the community, and make it an exciting place both to live and to visit, but it all has to be done in a sustainable way,” he said.
“My biggest thing is trying to bring everybody to the table and see if we can work a bit more cohesively together as a town. I think there’s a lot of passion and energy in Fernie. People are really excited to be here and there are a lot of great ideas in this town, which is amazing.
“We have a lot of really passionate volunteers and not-for-profits, a strong council and obviously the ski resort – there are a lot of players involved. My biggest hope would be to try to make sure that we’re all working together and moving in the same direction.”