WALKING ALONG VICTORIA STREET in downtown Kamloops is like walking into a ghost town. Store after store is shuttered and closed. On each doorway is a stark notice stating the business is closed because of COVID-19.
Here’s hoping the government wage subsidies of 75 per cent will be enough to allow the small businesses that make up the majority of the Kamloops downtown, and all of Kamloops’ business community, to rehire their staff and reopen when restrictions are lifted.
For most small businesses, their workers are their greatest asset. Rehiring staff is a priority.
I think back to the early 1980s when Kamloops, and all of Canada, was crippled by 21 per cent interest rates. Kamloops economy was crippled.
At the time, my father owned a small business with eight employees. If it wasn’t for wage subsidies, at least some of them would have lost their jobs. As it was, they all kept working through the hard times, and continued to do so for years after.
I have no doubts that small businesses across Kamloops will want to do everything they can to retain their employees. Good workers, with business specific skills, are hard to come by. The Federal wage subsidies are a good first step to help businesses crippled by the COVID-19 shutdown.
But the next step is to reinvent ourselves. We need to fill the voids with new businesses.
For the short term at least, the tourism sector will be soft. But what will continue to be strong is the transportation and logistics sector.
For many years, the City of Kamloops has been toying with the idea of creating an industrial park, including a highway interchange, at the west entrance to the city adjacent to the current Iron Mask area of the city.
Kamloops is uniquely situated at the intersection of major highways and rail lines. There are already logistics companies, like NRI Distributions, in Kamloops. And there are intermodal rail yards here too.
What is needed are the places where trucks can easily get on and off the highway. Where goods can be dropped off, sorted and redistributed. The City of Kamloops, along with the provincial and federal government need to help the transportation and logistics sector grow by making this plan into a reality.
Reinventing Kamloops as the provincial logistics hub would help fill the COVID-19 economic void.
Kamloops has weathered many economic storms.
In 2000, Convergys and Pollard Banknotes were two of the top 10 employers in Kamloops. They have all but disappeared from the city. Now, in 2020, Arrow Transportation and CN Rail have grown substantially in size and have joined the top 10. New Gold, which wasn’t even in production in 2000, is now a top 10 employer as well.
There is a lot of uncertainty in the months ahead. But there are two things I am certain of. First, small business will do all it can to retain its workers. They are the core of what small businesses are. Second, we can create new opportunities to fill the voids. Kamloops has done it again and again in the past. We can weather the storm.
Nancy Bepple is a former City councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.