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Time to put your money where your heart is

An upcoming economic development webinar for local small business owners endorses the potential for small business to be a major economic driving force in their community. Forward-thinking members of Ignite (a small business accelerator group under the Community Futures umbrella) include Gibsons Councillor, entrepreneur and economic development innovator Charlene SanJenko.

SanJenko agrees with webinar presenters’ analysis, found online, that “communities with a high percentage of locally-owned businesses have greater wealth, higher voter turnout, better health outcomes and more jobs.” Resist the urge to say “well, duh!” Long-time Coast residents know that area businesses support our food banks, schools, sports teams, arts groups and hospital with generous donations of time, money and material.

Question is: are we supporting them in turn?  That reciprocal support is part of building a healthy economy and a healthy community. A standout anecdote concerns a group who approached a local grocer for support. The businessman provided a generous cheque, and the following day met the group aboard the ferry – happily reporting they were on their way to Costco to purchase food for their event with his donation because “it’s so much cheaper there!”

Point taken. Local suppliers’ prices may be higher than the city businesses, given that their costs, taxes and fees may be equal to or higher than those paid by their big-city-based competitors. And some Coast businesses are not above taking advantage of a killer view to charge a walloping $11 for a four-ounce glass of wine or cocktail. (One former restaurant owner said this was policy, “to keep out the riff raff.” I never went back, so it worked for me.) Additionally, one cannot help wondering about the reasoning behind prices at the Coastal gas pump. With Metro Vancouver residents subject to an additional 16 cents per liter in taxes, one wonders if the cost to barge the stuff from Port Moody to the Coast and offload it at Port Mellon into tankers for delivery to Gibsons, Sechelt and Kleindale really accounts for that price difference.

But point given: local businesses provide a ‘cut’ from their income to support, directly, Coast non-profits. City businesses give our community nothing – rien – nada – zip – zero – zilch. They don’t even provide real savings to the individual shopper, when one factors in cost of ferry, gas, wear and tear on nerves and vehicle, meals, impulse buys and so on.

Local businesses respond to local need and demand and often display the creativity for which the Coast is famous. For example: Harbour Haus in Gibsons discovered a supplier of quality Canadian-designed and locally-manufactured bamboo knit clothing. The fabric itself is woven in Vancouver from chemical-free bamboo ‘juice’. She kept prices affordable, the product is outstanding – so where are the customers?

Our communities need to get busy with a Victoria-style ‘Eat, Shop and Be Local’ campaign: Shop Coastal, perhaps. Instead of focusing on traditional economic development that focuses on non-local businesses, let’s look at an approach that creates an entrepreneurial ecosystem (like Ignite, on a larger scale).

As they say in Victoria, “Put your money where your heart is.” Help our business owners, especially those operating one-of-a-kind shops and services that provide our Coastal character. Help sustain a vibrant community, keep money circulating on the Coast, and support your friends and neighbours. This is how we create collective prosperity, in partnership with those who truly care about our community.

Take THAT, Costco.

Heather Jeal,
Contributing Writer

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