Chamber CEO Bruce Williams spreads the word about the importance of shopping locally — especially during Small Business Month. Williams joined City of Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and Downtown Victoria Business Association executive director Jeff Bray on Government Street for a media event yesterday.
"It's never been more important for us to support each other, and The Chamber celebrates the many businesses that are working so hard to get through this time together," Williams says. "By sharing the story of Small Business Month, we want to encourage everyone in our region to pitch in and support local businesses."
Greater Victoria's economy will bounce forward significantly starting next year, says a new report by the Conference Board of Canada.
Our region is the only major city in Canada that the Conference Board expects will post a gain in retail sales in 2020. Retail sales fell 3.5% in the second quarter but have since rebounded. The forecast is for 2.7% increase this year despite the pandemic. Next year looks even better as the forecast is for growth of 6.9%.
It's not an entirely rosy picture, as the Conference Board says it will take years for Canada to shrug off the 11.5% contraction that the economy suffered as a result of shutting down in the second quarter. Governments also face difficult decisions in the years ahead as they will need to rein in spending.
"No one has a crystal ball, but The Chamber is encouraged by the detailed forecast offered by the Conference Board of Canada," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams says. "Our region was thriving before COVID-19, and we know the fundamentals remain in place for us to create an even more resilient economy in the next few years."
The Island Corridor Foundation has released a report estimating the economic impact of restoring the Island Rail Corridor to operational condition.
The report says the $304 million project would require $147 million for labour and create thousands of jobs — based on an average annual full-time income of $67,000.
The foundation also recently contracted a survey that determined interest is high in rail service on Vancouver Island.
"The results should leave no doubt in anyone’s mind that the people of Vancouver Island want to see rail service restored,” foundation CEO Larry Stevenson said in a news release.
Overall, 80% of survey respondents believe that federal and provincial governments should fund a modern and revitalized rail system for Vancouver Island, and 81% of respondents believe rail should receive a subsidy to support ongoing operations.
Doing business in a region with 13 municipalities can be confusing. The Chamber continues to advocate for better governance through fewer governments, and we have strongly supported the Citizens' Assembly process that was started by Saanich and Victoria to explore the pros and cons of amalgamation.
One area that many municipalities have been trying to streamline is the business licence application process. The City of Victoria announced this week that it was moving the process online, enabling businesses to apply, pay and print licences without having to go into city hall.
The City of Langford offers perpetual business licences that don't need to be renewed unless the business closes or moves.
The City of Colwood also doesn't charge businesses an annual fee but does require licences to be renewed. This year, Colwood is encouraging businesses to use its online online application process.
The District of Saanich offers step-by-step instructions for businesses looking to apply for a business licence.
Businesses that carry on work across Greater Victoria can apply for Inter-Community Business Licences.
Are you ready to rumble? You should be! Tomorrow at 10:15 am is the Great British Columbia Shake Out, and a number of organizations across Greater Victoria are helping raise awareness about earthquake preparation.
To learn more about what steps you can take to make your workplace, classroom and home safer, go to shakeoutbc.ca.
The federal government unveiled a new plan last Friday to help commercial tenants struggling with a loss of revenue due to the pandemic.
The Chamber had called on government to replace the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA), which expired last month. It suffered from low uptake and had faced criticism from many business that found it exceptionally difficult to implement.
The new Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS) will be provided directly to eligible tenants, unlike CECRA which relied on buy-in from landlords. The government touts CERS as providing "simple and easy-to-access rent and mortgage support until June 2021."
"A program that is easier to access is good news for many commercial tenants that are struggling right now," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams says. "The new plan is an improvement and allows businesses to plan for the winter and spring. We'll have to see how it's rolled out, and how well it works for our most vulnerable businesses in the tourism and hospitality sector."
Also announced Friday was an extension of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy until June 2021, and an expanded Canada Emergency Business Account offering access to an interest-free loan of $20,000 in addition to the initial CEBA loan of $40,000.
Election Panels a chance to hear from local candidates
The Chamber is proud to bring you a series of Election Panels featuring candidates running for the three major parties in five of Greater Victoria's electoral districts.
On Tuesday, Chamber CEO Bruce Williams moderated a panel for Victoria-Beacon Hill.
Earlier today, we featured Oak Bay-Gordon Head. Tomorrow, we host candidates in Saanich South. On Friday, it's Esquimalt-Metchosin and, next Tuesday, we have candidates from Victoria-Swan Lake.
"We're asking questions that reflect regional concerns, such as child care and transportation, as well as topics that are more specific to each electoral district," says Williams, who spoke to CFAX yesterday about The Chamber's efforts to host the 2020 Election Panels.
The City of Colwood is enjoying time in the spotlight as the West Shore municipality undergoes an impressive uptick in popularity. So much more than a source of commuters, Colwood is becoming a hub for new jobs being created in the region.
Recently announced projects include a new home for the Royal BC Museum's archives, collections and research as well as a $26 million complex for Seaspan Victoria Shipyards. There's also a massive mixed-use development in the works from Omicron.
“Colwood is at a really pivotal time right now where we’re shifting from a bedroom community to something very dynamic and I think dynamic is good,” Colwood Mayor Rob Martin told the Times Colonist.
City of Colwood: Member since 2020
Omicron Canada Inc: Member since 2015
Seaspan Victoria Shipyards: Member since 2002
Royal BC Museum: Member since 1994
Statistics Canada's latest unemployment numbers offer more evidence about the impact of the pandemic on jobs in Greater Victoria. Our region is improving from the summer, with the jobless rate at 9.1% for September compared to 10.3% in August and a low of 11.1% in July.
However, we are currently the 22nd ranked Census Metropolitan Area in Canada. Before COVID-19, Greater Victoria consistently had the lowest or second lowest unemployment rate in the country.
Our ranking is largely attributable to a 39% drop in the number of people working in accommodations and food services — the sector hit the hardest by measures to control the pandemic.
The decision to get BC government workers back in the office is welcome news. In June, The Chamber wrote to provincial Finance Minister Carole James — who is also MLA of Victoria-Beacon Hill — and asked what her plan was to return civil servants to their workplaces. The request was made after Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry advised that it was safe to go back to the office, and after WorkSafeBC published extensive guidelines on how to do so.
Greater Victoria's economy needs a vibrant downtown, and downtown businesses need support. Restaurants, cafes and retailers struggle without the civil servants who shop or buy meals before and after work and during their breaks.
Chamber CEO Bruce Williams told the Times Colonist that businesses outside of downtown are generally faring well, but those in the core are fighting for their survival.
"It’s put a real serious challenge in front of many business owners downtown.”
In the letter to the finance minister, which was co-signed by the Downtown Victoria Business Association and the City of Victoria, we called on government to model best practices for a safe return to work. We're thankful our voice was heard, and that the return of public service workers gives hope to the many businesses that are hanging on downtown.
WorkSafeBC: Member since 2006
Downtown Victoria Business Association: Member since 2007
City of Victoria: Member since 1962