Ninety-eight per cent of all businesses in B.C. are small businesses, Naomi Yamamoto, Minister of State for Small Business said while visiting Williams Lake last month.
Speaking to a group of people gathered at a meeting hosted by the Williams Lake and District Chamber of Commerce, Yamamoto said a small business is defined as having 50 employees or less, but the overwhelming majority have five employees or less.
“The small business community in B.C. accounts for more than one million jobs and about a third of B.C.’s Growth Domestic Product.
For me more importantly, when the global economic crisis hit in the latter part of 2008, small businesses only reduced the level of their employees by half a per cent.”
Big business reduced its employees by eight per cent, Yamamoto added.
Williams Lake Business Improvement Association president Sheila Mortensen confirmed there are 300 plus members in the association.
Over the 40 years Mortensen’s been in business with her husband at Lakecity Glass Ltd., they’ve trained many glaziers.
“We always believe in certification and making sure they totally understand their job for their own personal safety, etc. The biggest problem is holding on to them once they’re certified,” Mortensen said, adding to keep them working 24/7 through the winter, and to hold on to a journeyman glazier, “just about drains the piggy bank.”
And if a company like hers is forced to lay someone off over the winter, there’s a good chance that employee will leave to find work in another city.
Their employees are also sent away for six weeks of training at British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) and Mortensen has seen some occasions where employees will visit the school to offer trainees jobs.
In a place like Williams Lake, an employee can also be well-rounded because they aren’t limited in their experiences.
Take for example the glass shop.
In Williams Lake, Mortensen’s employees are not only doing store front, or just doing automotive, or just doing cutting.
If you hired a journeyman out of a bigger city like Vancouver that person might only be trained in one type of glass fitting, she suggested.
The wages that small businesses can offer make it difficult for them to compete with bigger companies, however, Mortensen said small business owners can groom employees to eventually move further up.
Getting new, and inexperienced workers in the door initially; however, is often the challenge.
Yamamoto said in smaller towns and rural areas small business is the heart and soul of the community and those business owners will do anything to keep their employees working.
“It’s that attitude and spirit that makes small business so important,” Yamamoto said.
As an association, the BIA has begun to focus on getting the business community to act as a unified body.
“In 2013 I’d like to say to the business community, how are we going to promote our businesses in the downtown core, as far as getting the people through the door. That’s the key.
And making your product enticing enough that customers will buy them,” Mortensen said, adding the question is always what is missing and why are people going to Kamloops to buy things?
“We want to keep people in our town and we want to give that service quality that will keep them here.”