Vanessa Riplinger, Williams Lake and District Chamber of Commerce executive director, (left) with moderator Ryan Brink, was one of several speakers who updated the community at a tailgate talk held Thursday, June 11, at the TDC parking lot, organized by the Williams Lake Hiring Initiative. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)

Williams Lake businesses fear lack of customers, employees: chamber president

Vanessa Riplinger says lack of employees already existed due to 2017 wildfires, now after COVID-19

As they re-open after COVID-19 precautions saw them closed, businesses have fears around lack of customers and lack of employees, said Williams Lake and District Chamber of Commerce president Vanessa Riplinger.

Riplinger was one of the speakers at a tailgate talk event hosted by the Williams Lake Hiriing Iniative Thursday, June 11.

“Lack of employees was already happening before after the 2017 wildfires and it’s happening again now with the phase two start up,” Riplinger said.

Other concerns are the cost of the proposed 10-day sick days for employees and who will pay for it, not only in Williams Lake, but across the province, as well taxes, the carbon tax and tax relief are other issue, Riplinger noted.

“I think our government has some big decisions to make around small business. Right now we are in phase two. We are fragile right now. We’ve had some closures. Small business owners go from month to month, we have overheads, and when we look at that I think I don’t have answers but I think the government is going to help and this is something that is going to be ongoing.”

Businesses are having to reinvent themselves and already there are some good examples locally of how people are doing that, she added.

Some are going online and selling globally, offering curbside pick up.

“Traditionally in Williams Lake we haven’t had to have an online presence.”

The chamber is also adapting.

“It is an opportunity for us to learn from new and emerging trends and looking at new ways of supporting businesses.”

She’s been following the Vancouver Board of Trade and some of the things they’ve been doing, such as offering webinars.

Riplinger thinks that’s something the chamber needs to consider and looking at partnering and co-ordinating to access more speakers.

“We know the BC Chamber did its AGM on a virtual platform. We may have too look at that too. We are going to go ahead with our golf tournaments – we want to keep doing things that we can do.”

There are no specific stats on how COVID-19 has impacted the labour market in Williams Lake, but Riplinger said in the near future she anticipates information for specific regions will emerge from surveys that are underway.

She has heard provincially 32 per cent to 40 per cent of businesses have had tenders and capital projects cancelled or deferred.

From that information, she said it will be interesting to see what comes out of the phase three start up.

Riplinger is the executive director of the Cariboo Chilcotin Child Development Centre, which was deemed essential right at the beginning of the pandemic because they work with vulnerable children.

“We shut down for about a week to regroup to figure out what we needed to do, especially around cleaning.”

To support staff, a rotating cycle was put in place so only one third of the staff is inside the building at one time.

Working with youth has continued but out of the building.

The world has changed and the ways of conducting business has changed, she added.

“You also need to be a good employer. To hold your employees and make sure they come back, you need to have a healthy work place and embrace this change.”

Read more: Mayor Cobb proud of community response to COVID-19

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