The Elk Valley Economic Initiative (EVEI) has released results from what it calls the ‘largest ever’ business survey conducted in the Elk Valley, detailing findings on perceptions of the workforce, housing concerns, growth opportunities and more from the point of view of local businesses.
Drawing of data collected via a survey of 318 businesses in late 2021, the report – formally the Elk Valley Business Retention and Expansion (BRE) report – stated that some 49 percent of all businesses included said that employee recruitment had been a problem over the last three years, while another 28.9 percent said retention was an issue.
Of those that said retention was an issue, almost 60 percent listed cost of living as a major concern. Housing came second, at 48 percent, while the areas seasonal population of transient workers was listed as a problem for retention by 33 percent. Child care was only listed as an issue by 4.7 percent of businesses surveyed.
Notably, businesses with larger workforces were more likely to list recruitment and retention as a challenge, vs. those with one or two employees.
The report suggests a number of very broad recommendations to help businesses fix their workforce problems, such as recruitment from outside the area, promotion of the Elk Valley as a place to live and work at large, and supporting employment programs.
Another major focus was housing, with over half of all businesses surveyed saying that housing was “very or extremely important” for their success. Housing was highlighted as a problem for both employee recruitment and retention.
Damningly, some 38.4 percent listed housing as a “top community weakness” that damaged their community as a place to do business, second only to cost of living, which 41.6 percent of businesses said was a negative.
Overall, a lack of housing was listed as a third biggest challenge to businesses in the area, behind cost of business and supply chain snags.
Additionally, the report highlighted government procedure as a hurdle, and marked it for improvement.
“Businesses that operate as “Construction” disproportionately selected local government regulations as a top 3 biggest challenge facing their business at 37.8 percent compared to overall at 15.3 percent,” reads the report.
The report recommended that the EVEI pass along qualitative data from its survey to the planning departments of local governments to help understand sentiments, and support planning departments in streamlining development processes.
Coordinator of the EVEI, Brad Parsell, said that the numbers in the report weren’t a surprise, but the overall report was a major asset in qualifying a lot of things that people already knew.
“The beauty of doing this, is now in all our efforts to address these issues with government we have a firm foundation to stand on, and empirical data to point to,” he said, adding that the EVEI wanted to be able to repeat this sort of survey every few years, so that local decision makers could track changes.
The report released this week is the first of four from the EVEI: Another three, each specifically focusing in the communities of Fernie, Sparwood and Elkford will be released in May, detailing community-specific ideas and suggestions to help guide decision making.
Funding for the EVEI report came from a grant from the Economic Trust of the Southern Interior (ETSI), with support from the province of British Columbia.
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