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COVID keeps crippling small businesses as workplace shortages continue

Tom Thomson spoke on behalf of the Nelson and Area Economic Development Partnership (NAEDP) — of which the City of Nelson is a member — to city council on the 2021 Collective Perspective Survey (BC Chamber of Commerce), conducted from Oct. 18 – Nov. 4.

More B.C. businesses were struggling to attain pre-pandemic success in 2021, with a provincial survey revealing a downswing in prospects, says a member of the city’s economic development partnership.

Tom Thomson spoke on behalf of the Nelson and Area Economic Development Partnership (NAEDP) — of which the City of Nelson is a member — to city council on the 2021 Collective Perspective Survey (BC Chamber of Commerce), conducted from Oct. 18 – Nov. 4.

The survey garnered 1,300 responses from businesses — including Nelson and area — and it gave a glimpse of how B.C. businesses were doing as the pandemic continues to move on.

Thomson said 82 per cent of businesses reported being in good or acceptable shape, decline from a pre-pandemic high of 94 per cent in 2019.

“And 76 per cent are not back to pre-pandemic success,” he added.

That sentiment is what drove the NAEDP to work with businesses through a variety of projects in 2020, including COVID-19 workforce and consumer safety, Think Local First business supports and Workforce Supports.

NAEDP member Andrea Wilkey (Community Futures) said a recent strategic planning session for 2022 — with 22 community stakeholders — set out the goals for 2022, identifying what were the greatest problems and opportunities the NAEDP should focus its efforts on in the coming year.

The first goal is addressing workforce shortages in Nelson, said Wilkey.

“As a result of people being out of work due to COVID, or to a career change as a result of the time they took off during COVID, and as well as the demographic shift we’ve seen coming for a long time, the workforce shortage is upon us right now,” she said.

“And I think we are all seeing that by looking around at local businesses and seeing shorter hours or the businesses are closed.”

The NAEDP’s goal will be to focus on the hardest hit sectors and engage them to better understand their workforce shortages, and to come up with solutions that the NAEDP can help tackle, Wilkey explained.

Workforce housing is another goal and it is linked to workforce shortages when you have limited housing available, she noted, and that’s especially true when you have service industry employees.

The NAEDP will work to gather data on successful municipal workforce housing initiatives and engage stakeholders and determine where the NAEDP can best support this priority, Wilkey said.

Business retention is one of the biggest priorities for the NAEDP and the organization will continue to have a role of advocate, advocating for economic recovery supports for local businesses.

“We are currently advocating for adjustments for the paid sick leave legislation, in light of the impact of the Omicron virus,” Wilkey said.

By the numbers

The NAEDP pre-budget annual financial ask of the City of Nelson ask went up by $10,000 after receiving $80,000 for many years.

“We haven’t had an increase in a number of years so inflationary increases would put us up to the $90,000 mark,” said Thomson.

The regional district (areas E and F) contributes a total of $40,000 to the partnership and there is also a carryover from the previous period of $10,000 to the 2022 budget.