BR+E finds business still harping on city hall: Sudbury's first Business, Retention and Expansion survey shows business owners want less red tape and more skilled workers.
The task now is to find solutions to the problems, perceived or otherwise, that Greater Sudbury's first-ever Business Retention + Expansion (BR+E) program shed light on.
On Feb. 28, the Greater Sudbury Development Corporation (GSDC), Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce (GSCC) and Sudbury-Manitoulin Workforce Partnerships Board (WPB) released the results of the first phase of the Sudbury BR+E at Tom Davies Square.
The program is designed to "identify growth and development opportunities as well as issues and challenges for the area's business community," according to a press release.
It is a community based, volunteer-driven economic development tool designed to encourage the stability and growth of local business.
The first phase of the program saw over 100 volunteers interview 126 of a targeted 200 local businesses of all shapes and sizes. The companies interviewed employed 16,875 people, or about 24 per cent of the city's workforce.
Phase two, which is in the startup stage right now, will aim to interview a bank of 100-200 new businesses as well as several participants from phase one. During that phase, interviewers will ask more specific questions about red tape, labour needs and other issues raised during phase one.
The first report showed that 57 per cent of business owners see the availability of skilled labour as a barrier to business development. The road and highway system was named by 52 per cent as a barrier, while business taxes and the approval process were named by 48 per cent each. Development charges were identified as a barrier by 29 per cent of businesses.
Some of the things business owners said would help their business:
* Cut red tape at city hall;
* Increase promotion of city to improve image;
* Alleviate the doctor shortage;
* Reduce taxes;
* Engage post-secondary schools to offer more relevant training programs; and
* Increase the number of recreational facilities in the city.
As alluded to above, the second questionnaire currently under development will include questions aimed at drilling down what the barriers to business in Sudbury really are. According to WPB executive director Sharon Murdock, there will be two basic types of questions used to clarify. In the case of "red tape at city hall," for example, an interviewer would ask "What exactly do you mean by red tape" and "When did it happen?"
The second question establishes whether the complaint is related to something recent or ongoing, or one problem that occurred 20 years ago.
"A lot has changed there over the past five and 10 years," Murdock said.
Specific questions about skilled trades workers and skilled labour--which Murdock is quick to point out are two different things--will help decision makers form specific strategies for the North. After all, Murdock says, it is no secret that there is a skilled labour (and trades) shortage in Northern Ontario, southern Ontario, the rest of Canada, the United States and most of the industrialized world. A "yes" to the question "Do you need skilled labour" doesn't really generate any actionable items, she says.
Likewise, questions that didn't really get the program anywhere will be eliminated for the second round.
FedNor has already agreed to help fund the second BR+E phase. An application to the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp. (NOHFC) for the extension of funding for an intern position has been made.
Mayor Dave Courtemanche, who-may have been in a bit of a tough position after the survey pointed the finger at his corporation's bureaucracy for being an obstacle to doing business, said at the Feb. 28 release that he is committed to working with the business community.
"We have to consider our quality of life as an industry," he said. "That is something we have to focus on and consciously grow. It doesn't end here tonight. In fact, this is just the first step."
Seventy businesses plan to expand in the next three years, while 50 intend to stay about the same size. Two are planning to downsize and another two are planning to close. In the past three years, staffing levels have increased at 60 per cent of the businesses surveyed, and 67 per cent of businesses forecast adding more before 2010.
The Sudbury BR+E program was co-ordinated by Simone Chilsholm with assistance from Dr. Ron Mulholland, an associate professor of commerce at Laurentian University.
Business retention and expansion programs have been in use in Ontario since the concept was introduced from the United States to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs in 1997. The Ministry of Northern Development and Mines is the lead agency for BR+E in Northern Ontario.
By CRAIG GILBERT
Northern Ontario Business