Lorie Watson, Economic Development Officer with the Village of Burns Lake gives a presentation on Nov. 26 about the village’s progress with its economic diversification and community development programs. (Blair McBride photos)

40 per cent of business growth bids underway

The Village of Burns Lake is working on almost half of its planned projects to diversify the local economy and develop the community, according to a presentation on Nov. 26.

Lorie Watson, Economic Development Officer (EDO) with the village specified in her presentation in the council chambers that 40 per cent of the projects are underway, 55 per cent haven’t started yet and 5 per cent are complete.

The completed projects include the council’s finalization of its cannabis policy, which could stimulate the local cannabis industry; the advocacy for a sustainable Annual Allowable Cut in the Lakes Timber Supply Area; and the opening of the local dog park.

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Of the 28 projects that are in progress some of the most important include addressing entry level labour shortages, developing a housing strategy for the Lakes District and supporting community programs that leverage the skills of local residents.

Of the 19 projects that haven’t started yet, some of the most noteworthy include the approval of a tourism master plan, collaboration with local First nations organizations to link employers with Indigenous employees, and preparing an updated online land inventory.

Watson explained that bringing the various schemes to fruition requires time, community capacity and in many cases significant finances.

“Some of the projects cost a lot of money, such as downtown revitalization. [It] has a high price tag. Other plans move on a step by step basis.”

Mobilizing the community to take ownership of the projects helps them move along faster.

“That’s how the dog park really got off the ground. They heard about it, they got excited about it…they saw if there was interest from people or organizations that would like to take the reigns and bring that forward,” she said.

As solutions to speed up progress, Watson said there needs to be more communication with the public on the details of the projects, more partnerships with community stakeholders and more funding resources.

The EDO gave a snapshot of how Burns Lake is faring in economic development, based on data from Statistics Canada, BC Statistics, and research by the Village.

Out of a regional population of 5,601 a total of 2,550 people are employed. The regional population comprises Burns Lake and the Burns Lake Band, Lake Babine Nation and rural Electoral Areas A and E.

The median income among full-time employed people is $58,884.

Two storefronts along Highway 16 are vacant.

In terms of business owners satisfied with the state of business, 14 per cent said conditions were slow or poor, 36 per cent said fair/steady and 50 per cent said conditions were good or increasing.

A total of 317 business licenses were issued in Burns Lake in 2018, and 11 new businesses were formed. So far in 2019, 326 business licenses were issued.

Watson qualified those numbers in saying that some licenses are for temporary, seasonal or even weekend-long business activities, such as short-term contractors.

The licenses include a temporary category which means doing business fewer than 21 times in a year, and a non-resident category of someone who works here but lives elsewhere, said Sheryl Worthing, Chief Administrative Officer.

The next status update on economic diversification and community development will take place in February of 2020 and will include data on resident satisfaction.

Blair McBride
Multimedia reporter
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