Brad Parsell said the Fernie Chamber of Commerce was spending a lot of time advocating for immigration levels to return to pre-pandemic numbers, given the community’s reliance on foreign workers. (File photo)

Brad Parsell said the Fernie Chamber of Commerce was spending a lot of time advocating for immigration levels to return to pre-pandemic numbers, given the community’s reliance on foreign workers. (File photo)

Housing, staffing and wages: Fernie Chamber crunching numbers heading into 2022

Brad Parsell said he was amazed by how many businesses had opened in Fernie during the pandemic

It was a tough year for business in 2021, but there’s optimism in the air for 2022 according to the Fernie Chamber of Commerce’s Brad Parsell, who said the chamber was gathering data on how to best support businesses heading into the next year.

“When we look back at 2021, it was another insanely busy year for our organisation and for the business community at large,” he said.

Top of mind for operators for Fernie remained the perennial issues – housing and staffing, which Parsell said the chamber spent a lot of time on in any given year.

Besides working with Tourism Fernie to push the ‘Work in Fernie’ website, which combines a job board with a tourism website to draw in prospective workers, Parsell said they, and other chambers were focused on immigration, saying it was regarded as the answer to staffing woes given Fernie’s historic reliance on foreign workers.

“We need to get back to pre-pandemic levels of immigration, so we’re very active on that file,” he said.

Staffing retention was another big problem, with high turnover of workers that do come.

“We are looking at a living wage study of Fernie, which is already started,” he said. Research into the required wages to support life in Fernie is ongoing, partly through work done by the Elk Valley Economic Advisor – a 12-month position to help the economic recovery of the area funded by the Economic Trust of the Southern Interior BC (ETSI – BC).

“Minimum wage ($15.20 per hour) is no longer cutting it, so what is the wage that we need?” asked Parsell, who said the chamber was seeking hard numbers to inform its advocacy going into 2022.

“We’re trying to figure out with the employers how we can keep people here.”

He also said the chamber was doing plenty of research on housing and staffing retention across similar municipalities in order to fine-tune its ‘ask’ of all levels of government in what can be done to help solve the dilemmas facing Fernie businesses. ‘We’re very cognizant that we’re heading into a local election in the next year.”

So how did 2021 compare with 2020 for the business community?

“I think generally there’s a lot of optimism. – If you recall at the end of 2020, we were just plunging into the second and most serious wave of the pandemic, and there wasn’t that much optimism,” he said.

“But, there’s cautious optimism. We’re going into a new normal and a lot of things have been disrupted. Its why we need a data-driven approach. It’s not good enough anymore to say things anecdotally, because everything’s changed so much.”

Despite everything over the last two years, Parsell said he was impressed by how resilient the business community had been.

“I’m amazed at how many businesses have opened during the pandemic. It demonstrates confidence and optimism that things are going to come back to normal.”

READ MORE: Festivals and events in Fernie to get $190k in provincial funding



scott.tibballs@thefreepress.ca
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