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Qualicum Beach tourism booming but businesses face staffing struggles

Chamber of Commerce gives town council annual update
This is one of the empty storefronts in Qualicum Beach that have led some councillors to voice their concern. The Qualicum Beach Chamber’s CEO said, though tourism remains strong, business owners are having trouble attracting and retaining staff. — Adam Kveton Photo

Tourism shows no signs of slowing down in Qualicum Beach, but town councillors have expressed concern over empty storefronts and for-lease signs in the downtown core.

In an interview with The NEWS, Qualicum Beach Chamber of Commerce CEO Anne Dodson said Qualicum Beach’s busiest summer month for tourism remained “very, very busy,” with zero per-cent vacancy at local hotels over the August long weekend.

“Strong tourism in this part of the Island sort of floats everybody’s boat in a town like Qualicum Beach,” she said, saying shops and restaurants do quite well with the influx of visitors, as well as with off-season visitors.

However, there have been more shuttered businesses over the past few years than in the recent past, said Dodson.

Though there are many factors from business models to economic changes that can lead to harder times for businesses, what Dodson is hearing over and over is that housing and transportation are major issues for business owners when it comes to staffing, she said.

Dodson and other members of the chamber were on hand at a Jan. 21 special council meeting to provide an annual update on chamber activities.

Noted during the delegation was the more than 20,000 who were welcomed through the Visitor Centre run by the chamber.

The chamber also completed a business walk with MP Gord Johns and is considering adding more walks; awarded a total of $2,400 in scholarships to four Kwalikum Secondary School (KSS) students; provided $500 each to Young Life Canada, the Seniors’ Centre and the Lawn Bowling Club and more.

Some accomplishments including taking action by addressing business-owners’ concerns. Those included developing a joint policy committee with the Parksville chamber to focus on regional issues, and a variety of small business training like the Social Media Ninja bootcamp, which saw KSS students team up with businesses, non-profits and entrepreneurs to provide social media support.

Dodson did, however, acknowledge there seem to be more shuttered business over the past few years than in the recent past.

She said that issue tends to go through a cycle: “At different times through any community’s evolution, there is a greater demand for commercial space or greater demand for residential. This is just where we find ourselves now.”

One of the problems local businesses are having that Dodson has heard often repeated is “housing and transportation.”

“It’s the same thing that we’re seeing all over the region and the Island,” she said. “The younger workers especially do not live in the area… because of the availability of housing and whatnot. So they are relying on taking transportation.”

“In some cases it just doesn’t work out, “ she said. “Then because it is such a tight labour pool, if these workers live in Nanaimo or even Parksville, it’s not difficult for them to find employment closer to home.”

In terms of acting on housing and transportation concerns, Dodson referred to the joint policy committee with the Parksville chamber, though she noted that initiatives stemming from that have not yet been hammered out.

In the delegation to council, Dodson noted that the contract the chamber has with the town (mostly pertaining to the running of the visitors’ centre) has lapsed, and she expressed interest in moving forward with negotiations.

The chamber’s plans for 2019 include hosting a Local Entrepreneur Accelerator Program (LEAP) with Community Futures Central Island, a way-finding signage project in conjunction with the town and working with staff at KSS on a potential tech sector apprenticeship program.

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