A new draft economic development report, presented to Gibsons Council on September 19, reveals the importance of the harbour to the economy of Gibsons.
In researching the report, consultant Michael McLaughlin surveyed 95 per cent of harbour-area business owners. He estimates that harbour-related businesses directly and indirectly employ 420 people and generate almost $50 million in annual revenue. (By comparison, the mill at Port Mellon employs approximately 325 people.)
The marine economy, including commercial fishing and recreational boating, is the largest sector, generating 40 per cent of the revenue and 32 per cent of jobs.
“This is the first time that the working harbour, the marine businesses, have been surveyed,” said McLaughlin in a phone interview. “The size of the marine economy is larger than I think most people expected. It’s nearly $20 million revenue per year.”
The top challenges reported by commercial marine operators were a lack of marine services infrastructure, and pressure from recreational boating and tourism.
On land, restaurants are the biggest economic players, generating 22 per cent of direct revenue and a quarter of the jobs. The report notes that while restaurants have a low margin and are very seasonal, they are stable. All of the restaurants McLaughlin surveyed had been operating at least four years, and five had been there 11 or more years. By contrast, the majority of retailers had been operating for three years or less.
Top challenges reported by land-based businesses included a need for more diverse services in the landing, insufficient parking, high lease rates, and difficulty finding employees. Retailers and restaurants are highly dependent on tourism, with owners earning as much as 80 per cent of their revenue from June to August.
McLaughlin also surveyed visitors, including boaters. “Another notable outcome [of the survey] is the degree to which Gibsons is a visitor destination,” said McLaughlin, noting that most visitors come for more than a day and many stay in the Gibsons area.
McLaughlin said that businesses are happy with the way that the Town maintains the Landing, and he was impressed with the overall optimism of the business community. “They see the situation improving,” he said.
The report identifies three key players in the Landing’s future: the Gibsons Landing Harbour Authority; the George Marine Hotel which estimates it will attract 32,000 guests annually; and the Gibsons Public Market, which is a draw for both residents and tourists.
McLaughlin recommends that the Town consider four areas of opportunity for economic development in the Landing: providing more marine services (such as boat haul-out and repair or marine salvage), expanding recreational moorage, improving visitor amenities, and developing a destination marketing strategy.