By Alejandra Pulido-Guzman – Lethbridge Herald on February 3, 2024.
LETHBRIDGE HERALD[email protected]
The results of the fifth annual Brighter Together survey conducted by Economic Development Lethbridge, the Lethbridge Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Lethbridge BRZ have been released.
Economic Development Lethbridge CEO Trevor Lewington says he was happy to see more businesses added to it.
“We had 173 businesses that responded to the survey, so that was an increase from last year, which is great and it helps us really gather information about how Lethbridge business owners are feeling,” said Lewington.
He said the survey helps EDC understand business owners’ perception of issues in the community are and it helps his organization as well as the Chamber of Commerce to identify things they need to do differently.
“If we’re running certain types of programming and we see something emerge on the survey that maybe we haven’t considered before, we can adjust what we do,” said Lewington.
Â He said 66 per cent of businesses surveyed had an optimistic outlook for this year, which is consistent with previous years.
Â “Most companies are planning to make capital investment, to either expand their business or add new equipment. That remained unchanged from last year as well, so we didn’t see a big increase, but we didn’t see a big drop either,” said Lewington.
He said one of the biggest concern they heard was the cost of doing business.
“Rising cost of labour, rising cost of insurance and interest rates, as well as inflation. So the message was loud and clear, the business community is struggling to figure out how to offset those costs without trying to pass that on to the consumer,” said Lewington.
He said in previous years one highlighted concern was the difficulty finding talent to fill workforce gaps within businesses but that was not the case this time around.
“For the first time in the time we’ve been doing the survey, so hopefully that means the labour market is a bit more mobile. We’ve seen a bit more flexibility for companies looking to hire which is good news,” said Lewington.
He said the survey basically told EDL that even if businesses are struggling to find labour, it is no longer as much of an issue as it was in the past.
Lewington explained the survey asks businesses a whole series of questions to try to understand their intentions – questions like if they are still planning to hire this year and if they are still planning to invest in their businesses.
Â “We also ask about concerns to better understand what it is they’re worried about and the last series of questions is based around how we can help,” said Lewington.
He said the survey results showed the top three locational strengths being quality of life, proximity to complementary industries and collaborative environment, while also showing the top three locational challenges as utilities cost, municipal tax environment and the ease of permitting and regulatory procedures.
“Businesses like doing business in Lethbridge because of the quality of life. The city has great amenities, we have great facilities, cost of living, so if you’re a business looking to expand into Alberta Lethbridge is at the top of the list because it’s affordable and it has a good quality of life and that comes from the survey year after year,” said Lewington.
He said when it comes to the proximity to complimentary industries Lethbridge has everything a business might need, especially as an agri-food processor.
“Locally we have great world class crops, but you also have plumbing and mechanical companies that are used to working in food plants, you also have equipment suppliers that can help you service your equipment, so we have all of the things that you might need to run your business in this local environment,” said Lewington.
Â He added the other thing that comes up quite frequently in the survey is that Lethbridge is seen as a place where businesses can work together and they can work with our post-secondary institutions to research and with government
Â “The survey shows that Lethbridge is a collaborative environment and that’s an interesting one because it’s always in the top three. Lethbridge is seen as a place where you can work with others and get things done,” said Lewington.
When talking about some of the outcomes they have been able to obtain from the information gathered through their annual survey, Lewington gave an example regarding solar farms in the region and how they were able to help make some requirement changes.
“A number of years ago there was a regulation that required it only to be journeyman electrician that were installing panels and other things, now it makes sense to have a journeyman electrician wire them, but general labour should be able to help build the steel frames and do other work. That wasn’t allowed until we got that regulation changed,” said Lewington.