Finding and retaining skilled labour is the number one challenge that Burns Lake businesses face, according to the latest annual survey conducted by the Village of Burns Lake and the Burns Lake and District Chamber of Commerce.
A total of 52 business owners across various sectors have recently voiced their opinions on Burns Lake’s business climate as part of the so-called Business Walk. The information was gathered through 28 in-person visits and 24 online surveys between Oct. 24-25, 2019.
While the proportion of participants categorizing their business state as “slow” or “poor” almost tripled over the past five years — from five per cent in 2014 to 14 per cent in 2019 — the vast majority (86 per cent) said their operations have been “steady” or “increasing.”
“There was a general positive outlook for businesses in Burns Lake,” stated Burns Lake’s Economic Development Officer Lorie Watson, who took part in the Business Walk, in a report to village council.
Survey participants chose “location” as the top reason for doing business in Burns Lake. Those surveyed highlighted the access to neighbouring markets in Prince George and Smithers and the numerous outdoor lifestyle opportunities.
But challenges with respect to shopping local persist, according to the survey.
While the majority of survey participants (68 per cent) said 80 per cent of their customer base were local, they noted that the increase of online shopping and the fact that some Burns Lakers prefer to shop in Prince George, a larger service centre, has negatively affected their bottom line.
When it comes to what can be done to help local businesses thrive, the top suggestion was to encourage local shopping. Other suggestions included increasing training and workshop opportunities, diversifying housing options and decreasing the cost of doing business.
“I think one main topic we need to address in our community is the cost of doing business,” said Randi Amendt, the Chamber’s executive director, adding freight costs are a “huge issue” for many local businesses.
Amendt said the chamber now plans to work with the village to address the issues identified in the survey.
The survey sample of 52 businesses represents approximately 22 per cent of the local business community, according to the village. Half of the businesses surveyed have been operating for over 10 years.