July 09, 2014

Survey shows discontent among businesses

As published in The Erin Advocate

In the Economic Development field, it is well known that preserving the existing base of businesses in a community is the top priority.

That’s why the word retention comes first in the Town’s Business Retention and Expansion (BR+E) Report, which was endorsed by Council recently, along with a plan to start taking action on improving the local business climate.

“Supporting the businesses that have already invested in Wellington provides the greatest return for future growth,” said Warden Chris White, introducing the Erin BR+E report, part of the County-wide Economic Development Strategy.

The action plan includes reviving the Economic Development Committee and hiring a professional staff person to drive an Erin strategy.

Published with the report are results of a survey of 41 Town of Erin business owners in four sectors of the economy as set by the county (Agriculture, Manufacturing, Health Care and the Creative Economy), carried out by Coordinator Mary Venneman. While the retail sector was not interviewed, it will be a key part of future plans.

The survey shows that 95% of owners are happy with the quality of life here, but only 51% say the business climate in Erin is good or excellent (compared to 77% countywide). Sales growth over the next year is predicted by 56% of Erin businesses, with 60% having a positive outlook for their industry.

Comments from owners show a high level of frustration in dealing with Town staff, a perceived lack of support from council and concern about high rents and high taxes.

The main disadvantages of doing business in Erin were identified as lack of access to suppliers, a small population that is suspicious of new businesses, difficulty hiring qualified, skilled workers, lack of diversified housing, lack of serviced land and lack of reliable rural internet service.

Lack of sewage treatment was also a concern for a 40% of respondents, mainly those in the urban area that would benefit from such a system. Most see sewers as essential if the Town is to grow and attract new business.

Lack of a provincial highway in the area was not a major concern for most businesses, though 40% of manufacturers say it is a factor. Many businesses say not having a highway helps maintain Erin’s rural character, and some favour a bypass to take transport trucks away from the Main Street of Erin village.

Reliance on visitor traffic was relatively low (especially since retail was not surveyed), with 88% saying it accounted for 25% or less of their business. Still, visitors are an important sector of customers for agriculture, creative economy and health care businesses.

When asked about satisfaction with the Town’s efforts to attract visitors, 60% on average chose not to answer. Of the remaining 40% that did answer, more were dissatisfied (23%) than satisfied (13%).

Overall, 71% of businesses say less than 25% of their own purchases are made locally, though many said they wouldn’t expect specialized products to be available in Erin.

“There still remains the opportunity to explore what can be done to encourage more local purchasing, within the County if not within Erin itself,” says the report. “The Wellington database of services and products would go a long way as a starting point.”

There was general satisfaction with the local workforce, with the highest rating in health care and the lowest in manufacturing. About 25% of the workforce is local, commuting less than 15 km, but that includes owner-operators.

Many businesses cannot afford to pay the high level of salary or wages required to buy a home in Erin. Many younger workers who might be willing to work for a lower wage cannot afford to live on their own here, especially if they do not own a vehicle.