The growth in popularity of the Kelowna Farmers' Market is reflective of introducing innovative changes to the city's local economy. (File photo)

BC Chamber: Thompson-Okanagan businesses in good shape to recover from pandemic

BC Chamber of Commerce president optimistic about post-COVID economy

The new president of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce can sum up the challenges now facing the business community across the province she advocates for – resiliency and recovery.

Fiona Famulak says the COVID-19 pandemic has cut a swath of disruption to business owners over the past year.

“Those two streams – recovery and resiliency – are running in tandem for all business owners, but across the province, each chamber business member is in a different state so there is not a one size fits all solution going forward,” said Famulak.

Fiona Famulak

In the Thompson-Okanagan region, Famulak cites a recent BC Chamber of Commerce membership survey that showed 72 per cent of respondents are in executable to very good shape, 65 per cent have seen a decrease in sales revenue and 49 per cent were optimistic to very optimistic about economic improvement over the next year.

Across the province, the survey of the chamber’s 36,000 membership revealed 75 per cent of respondents have used some form of government grant or financial support, and despite that decline in revenue this past year there remains an optimistic expectation for improvement and increased employment for the next 12 months.

For the Thompson-Okanagan, she says the upbeat survey response is consistent with resort communities becoming higher in demand for people to live and work.

“Because technology allows the potential for many people to live in a community they choose and work anywhere in the world, they are not tied to having to live in major urban areas,” said Famulak.

“We are seeing people relocate from dense urban areas to places like the Okanagan that provide more space, access to nature, more conducive to a balanced workplace-life balance.”

Famulak is familiar with that lifestyle shift having been the former chief executive officer of the Whistler Chamber of Commerce.

She acknowledges the growing population of communities like Whistler and Kelowna as a benefit to the business sector also generates affordable housing and rental cost issues, and infrastructure demands such as more schools and municipal facilities.

She noted the BC Chamber is working on a policy statement regarding the housing demand – Famulak is the former president of the Vancouver Construction Association – which she hopes to see completed and unveiled in May.

On the resiliency front, Famulak says the BC Chamber wants to ensure business owners suffering from cash flow issues are aware of financial resources made available to them by the provincial government.

She cites the recent announcement of a reduction of the threshold, from 70 per cent to 30 per cent of lost revenue, to qualify for assistance and extension of this program’s deadline for qualifying from March 31 to Aug. 31.

The other resiliency reality is that tourism has taken a major hit in the economy due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, but Famulak remains confident the global tourism demand for B.C. will return as those restrictions are eased.

“The tourism industry will come back but it is going to take some time…but we will have to double down on domestic travel in the coming months to help support tourism businesses, to encourage people to travel responsibly and help boost businesses in their own region.”

On the recovery side, Famulak says the BC Chamber is focused on three areas: to create a business environment which is innovative and inclusive with a competitive tax system; incentivize and accelerate investment in high-tech development; and help business transition to a lower carbon dependent economy that helps drive business growth and job creation.

She adds the impact of COVID on the business community will leave impacts that will resonate long after the pandemic has subsided.

“There is a new normal for consumers. We can’t return to the old way of doing business. That just won’t cut it in a new environment that is still evolving,” she said, citing examples such as more employees working from home, the continued uptick of technology on consumer shopping habits and the lessons learned from Amazon’s success during the pandemic of delivering goods and services.

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