How Are Businesses Feeling?
Back in the spring the Elk Valley Economic Initiative published the results of the largest business survey ever undertaken in the Elk Valley. Supported by the local governments and Chambers of Commerce in all three Elk Valley communities, the findings were presented as a rolled-up report for the entire corridor as well as broken down into results from each of the communities of Elkford, Sparwood and Fernie. This kind of business sentiment data is critical for local leaders and decision-makers to understand as they work on policy and programming that will shape the local economy. The idea is to repeat the survey at least every two years to track how businesses are feeling about certain issues, and whether it is getting better (or worse) over time.
The results were taken from surveys with 318 unique businesses that operate in the Elk Valley, with 77% of those (245 businesses) identifying as operating in Fernie. What do businesses look like in Fernie at the moment? Well from the data, we know that 42.2% of businesses in Fernie are 51% or more owned by females. Fernie has a strong small business scene with 38.5% of businesses reporting an average gross revenue of less than $250,000, with the average Fernie business employing five full-time staff. 29.3% of businesses in Fernie have been in operation for over twenty years, compared to 31.4% of businesses that are less than five years old. Businesses that own their own buildings represented 32.2% of all Fernie businesses, while the 34.6% that leased their buildings paid an average of $12.20 per square foot (triple net).
If we look at the Fernie data, we can see that overall businesses are optimistic about the future of their operations while still acknowledging the multiple barriers that exist to growing their business. At the time of the survey, Fernie businesses were still in the grips of pandemic-related health orders and restrictions. Yet 44.2% of Fernie businesses stated they were growing, with 58.6% of businesses planning to expand in the next three years and 47.2% planning to increase the number of employees they have over the same time.
Despite the bullish outlook, 88% of businesses stated they have at least one barrier to growth. The key themes that emerged as challenges to local businesses were lack of workers, lack of workforce housing, and the cost of doing business. One in two businesses operating in Fernie reported that employee recruitment had been a problem in the last three years – with the issue more likely to be a problem the more employees a business has. For the businesses struggling with employee recruitment, 69% stated that the issue was simply a lack of applicants. Of course, workforce housing was identified as a major underlying issue for both employee recruitment and retention with 55.3% of businesses listing housing as “very to extremely important” to their business success. Tellingly, 43.3% of business listed housing as Fernie’s top weakness as a place to do business – second only to cost of living (which is clearly related).
So, what are we going to do with all this information? Great question! Next month we will dive into all the ramifications of what we heard, what the next steps are, and why it is critically important for local leaders (including those running for public office this fall!) to understand Fernie’s business sentiment as we all look to a prosperous and sustainable future. For more data insights on how Fernie businesses are feeling, check out the full ‘2022 Fernie Business Retention & Expansion Report’ on the Elk Valley Economic Initiative website (theelkvalley.ca)