Mayor Charlie Cornfield questions the accuracy of a Chamber of Commerce survey that indicates business owners feel Campbell River is not business friendly.
According to the survey, 82 per cent of respondents do not believe the city has strong economic development strategies and 74 per cent feel City Hall does not let it be known that Campbell River is ‘open for business.’
Cornfield said that while the information is important, he doesn’t believe the survey is a fair representation, as only 83 out of around 500 local businesses took part.
“To get people’s perceptions is fine. The intent, I think, is good as long as it’s used in the right manner,” Cornfield said. “In terms of validity, I’m not so sure. Is 83 a representation of the city? No. But it is important to know what people’s opinions are.”
Chamber members also feel City Hall does not promote business. A total of 71 per cent of respondents said elected municipal leaders and city staff do not have a pro-business attitude.
Coun. Roy Grant said it wasn’t fair to combine council and city staff in the question.
“I can tell you that myself and the rest of council have a pro-business attitude,” Grant said. “Those two categories should not have been combined.”
Coun. Ziggy Stewart, a member of the Chamber, said he is very supportive of the business sector but sees both sides’ point of view.
“In a lot of aspects I agree with what the Chamber is saying and why they’re trying to get through to City Hall,” Stewart said. “City Hall is a service business and if you’re not serving properly, you’re going to have issues and these issues are now being expressed. Having said that, out of the total number of Chamber members, only so many surveys came in and people are always inclined to talk about the negatives as opposed to the positives.”
Grant, a past Chamber of Commerce president, agreed the survey should be put into perspective because of the low response rate.
“Generally in these types of surveys, you get the people who aren’t satisfied responding and the ones that are satisfied don’t vote,” Grant said. “If the Chamber of Commerce is saying the city has failed to create a business friendly environment, that would lead me to believe that a lot of them that responded are uninformed.”
Eighty-six per cent of respondents said Campbell River is not proactive about offering tax increment financing packages or other incentives to attract investment.
But Grant said council has implemented tax incentives and had reduced development costs to attract business to the downtown core and have re-zoned three areas of the downtown core to allow higher residential buildings over commercial facilities.
“But the biggest thing is we created a re-vitalization tax exemption program bylaw, with input from the Chamber of Commerce, to be applied to the whole downtown area,” Grant said.
“Obviously the city has the responsibility to better inform not only the citizens of Campbell River but the business community so they’re aware of some of the programs we’ve initiated to create a business friendly environment.”
Executive director for Chamber of Commerce, Colleen Evans said the Chamber will consult with the city.
“Ensuring the views of our members and the local business community are made known to government and other appropriate stakeholders and lobbying in a constructive, independent manner on behalf of our members is an important role in the Chamber’s mandate,” Evans said. “We will take a progressive role in the coming weeks to influence decision makers.”
As part of that process, the Chamber will host an all-candidates business forum on Oct. 26 just ahead of the Nov. 19 civic election.
Cornfield said he feels the current council did the best it could with limited resources.
“It would be nice to give all things to all people, but we can’t at this time,” Cornfield said. “But we spent $8.5 million on the airport to bring in more tourists and fly people to Vancouver to do business. Isn’t that business friendly? Or the fact we brought in $22 million from outside sources to build badly needed infrastructure (along Highway 19A). Isn’t that business friendly when it attracts people to the city and created jobs for local contractors?”
Cornfield also noted that business taxes went down this year and are low compared to other communities. And he pointed out the creation of the Spirit Square and local programming which brings people downtown and into local businesses.
“We look at the survey as great information but we have to keep it in context,” Cornfield said. “Getting feedback is very important and we use it to help us make better decisions.”
On the positive side, the Chamber survey indicated that 60 per cent of members feel the city has an available skilled work force to meet their needs while 66 per cent agreed municipal services are up to par and affordable.