Business climate change

Survey indicates desire for more collaborative approach with city to improve business culture in Cranbrook

A more collaborative approach between the City of Cranbrook and the local business community is needed to improve Cranbrook’s overall business climate and culture, a recent Chamber of Commerce survey has indicated.

At Monday night’s regular City Council meeting, a survey undertaken by the Cranbrook and District Chamber of Commerce was presented by President Lana Kirk and 2nd Vice President David Butler.

The survey came as a result of a “challenge” from Mayor Wayne Stetski to the Chamber board, at its 2012 planning session — to identify barriers to doing business in Cranbrook, and suggest recommendations as to how those barriers could be removed.

The Chamber responded by conducting a detailed survey among its membership, which was condensed into a number of common themes and recommendations.

“It became clear to us that the level of understanding about what City departments do, and which City functions are in which departments, are less clear to business than they probably should be,” the survey notes summarized. “… There seems to be a sense that — in general — there is not a culture of being open to, and supportive of existing and new businesses.”

Butler pointed out that there are almost 1,500 business licenses in Cranbrook, which generate 37 per cent of the city’s total tax revenues.

In all, 295 businesses responded to the survey — 20 per cent — which the Chamber felt was a good rate of response, enough for a strong representative sample of the business community.

Respondents were asked for feedback on doing business in Cranbrook, with a focus on municipal, provincial and federal government agencies.

Butler pointed out that these types of surveys are often skewed towards the negative — those with negative experiences are more likely to respond that those with positive experiences.

“This is about doing doing business in Cranbrook, not about the City of Cranbrook,” he stressed. He said that businesses fully understood issues like the infrastructure challenges.

“One thing’s for sure — there are no magic bullets,” he added.

Feedback to the survey was condensed to reveal a number of common themes:

• The need to identify “retail gaps,” and aggressively seek out new businesses to fill those;

• The need for the City and the business community to work together, to attract more business and drive the economic development strategy more aggressively;

• To focus on and encourage new businesses in manufacturing, technology, service and value-added enterprises;

• More focus on tourism;

• Work to develop the College of the Rockies into a local university, and link its programs with the city’s economic development strategy;

• Work to become a transportation hub for the trucking industry, based on Cranbrook’s location in the province;

• More focus on alternative energy;

• Develop a more robust “buy-local” program.

As to removing barriers to business, the Chamber developed a number of proposed changes:

• Develop an “open for business” culture in Cranbrook by creating higher levels of customer service both at City Hall and within the business community;

• Ensuring taxes and fees are competitive with other communities, and conducting a review to determine how commercial property tax levels, DCCs and other fees stack up against other communities;

• Pushing for the College of the Rockies to become a university, to make sure there are more qualified, trained individuals available for businesses to hire;

• Making sure that the City’s economic development strategy — which is halfway through its term, Butler said — is still relevant. “Is it being successfully implemented? How are we tracking its progress? How do we expand our tax base, not our taxes?”

• Of particular note was the implementation of a business liaison position with the City of Cranbrook; an individual or entity to help entrepreneurs navigate the myriad processes of the City departments — “for folks particularly in the smaller businesses,” Butler said. “The mom and pop world.”

The survey concluded with a number of recommendations for the City to implement:

• Develop a training program for staff to ensure high levels of customer service, proper training for staff on city policies, and to educate the public on each department’s responsibilities;

• Hire a business liaison to help businesses navigate to processes necessary to start or expand a business in the area;

• Take a more aggressive approach to the economic development strategy, focussing on specific areas where progress is possible, and having the City work in conjunction with the business community to help achieve strategic goals.

Mayor and Council commented on the presentation.

“There are number of points there that aren’t surprising,” Mayor Stetski said. “Our challenge is to find a way to get those changes implemented on the ground.”

Butler told Coun. Denise Pallesen in response to the question that the survey would have indeed costs about $30,000 had a professional survey company been hired. But the heavy lifting had been done by Chamber volunteers.

Both Coun. Bob Whetham and Angus Davis agreed the collaborative approach between the City and business community would go a long way.

To review the survey, go to www.cranbrookchamber.com.

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