B.C. small business is at a crossroads and the upcoming provincial election will determine which path lies ahead.
"Are we going to continue to move forward or are we going to slide back to where we were in the 1990s?" Whistler Chamber of Commerce guest speaker Kevin Evans, chair of the Coalition of B.C. Businesses, asked Wednesday.
"This is a crossroads that is going to carry us to 2010 and beyond. It is crucial."
Evans pointed to strong B.C. Liberal labour and economic policies as a founding reason why small and family owned businesses in B.C. are feeling so optimistic.
And he warned the audience of more than 70 people to investigate the policies of the NDP and other provincial parties before voting.
Some in the audience were surprised that the Coalition, which represents about 50,000 small businesses, would come out so strongly and so publicly in favour of the B.C. Liberals.
But, said Evans, the organization is focused on policies and not politics and its support of the Liberals is based on the partys track record of paying attention to what small business has to say and implementing policies in support.
The voice of small business is a powerful one. They are the provinces largest employer with 98 per cent of private sector jobs in B.C. accounted for by small business.
About 75 per cent of the employers in this province employ five or fewer employees.
Many business owners are concerned about how the province is going to deal with rising demands of labour especially with the approach of the 2010 Olympic Games, which will stretch the construction and hospitality industry. Thats an issue Evans said the Coalition plans to address with whatever government is in power following the May17 election.
"We need to develop an all encompassing, comprehensive labour supply strategy," said Evans. "We have heard about skill shortages for the last four years but we have seen precious little evidence of that type of comprehensive strategy.
Evans added that the government needs to prioritize which areas of the province and which trades need to be focused on in the future.
" If that does not happen then we are a train that is running away and a collision with the station is not too far off," he said. "It is like the big elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about. But we better start talking about."
Cathy Goddard, owner of Whistlers Personnel Solutions, said it is a constant struggle to get qualified staff to move to Whistler.
"It has always been a challenge but it is especially challenging now," she said. "We are getting focus on the issue because of (the 2010 Winter Olympics), which is good but it is an on-going problem because of housing, affordability and other issues."
The government has recently created the Industrial Training Authority, a provincial government agency which became operational in early 2004, with legislated responsibility to govern and develop the industry training system in B.C.
"I believe it is a good first and second step," said Evans. "We still have a huge labour supply problem and as we head toward 2010 and beyond that is going to require much more than the establishment of the ITA."
Evans added that a recent survey by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business found that small businesses in B.C. are the most optimistic of any province in the country.