Business retention and expansion is a top priority for the Parksville and District Chamber of Commerce, as it opens a conversation with city council to help secure funding for its Oceanside Initiatives coalition.
The Chamber provided an update on progress through the COVID-19 pandemic to council at its regular council meeting this week.
“Oceanside Initiatives was able to respond by assessing the needs of the business community and we created a program called Rebound Oceanside to help reopen, adjust and prepare for the future. Ultimately, we saved jobs and we reduced the negative economic impact of COVID-19 in the Oceanside area,” said Corry Hostetter, economic development coordinator and project manager at for Oceanside Initiatives.
She said the program saved 28 full-time jobs and kept three local businesses from closing.
“The initial data that we had when we started collecting data at the beginning of the pandemic was that we were going to lose about three per cent of our businesses and that’s the way it turned out,” said Kim Burden, executive direct at the Chamber of Commerce.
Over $40,000 has been invested into the program by MOU (memorandum of understanding) partners, the Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN), municipalities and provincial grants, according to Hostetter.
Project funding for the coalition ends in a few months and the chamber wants to establish long-term funding to continue the project before January, she said.
“We are not done — our management model needs to be decided and [an] economic development vision incorporated into the official city plans and a funding model established to create stability and continuity for economic prosperity in this region,” said Hostetter.
The Chamber gave the same presentation to Qualicum Beach town council earlier this month, where a motion was made to have a staff report done, including consultation with Oceanside Initiatives. Parksville city council will vote on a similar motion at its next regular meeting.
Business retention is more important for the city right now than new businesses, according to Burden.
“All of the information we gathered through the inquires we have made have indicated we are not as ready for new businesses coming in as we are for expanding our existing business,” he said. “Existing businesses have made a commitment to Parksville and if we can help those businesses grow, then we can increase employment and we can create that attractiveness to employees coming to the community.”
Mayor Ed Mayne expressed surprise that new businesses are not a priority, but agreed Parksville needs to do more to attract people to work at new businesses.
“The idea of saying we have great trails and great beaches lasts about 38 seconds and then they want to find something else to do, so we need to make sure that we can provide that is that we can attract people so we can have employees for these new jobs,” he said.
He said only 24.4 per cent of the city’s population is working age (between 25-55) and at the start of the pandemic, only 85 people in this age range reported being unemployed. He said the city is working on providing housing to attract more potential employees for new businesses and is looking at amenities such as pools and theatres.