THE ANNOUNCEMENT this week (Tuesday, March 28), that mayor of Kamloops Ken Christian has formed an economic recovery task force of 15 business leaders, businesses, and politicians is good news for the city and region. The economic fallout of the COVID-19 lockdown has only just begun. Any efforts to help businesses get back on their feet is welcome news.
With the announcement, it’s time to think of what could help the most.
First, the City could help contractors get to work faster. Since the COVID-19 lockdown, I’ve talked to many local contractors who have said their work has been slowed down or stopped because of labour issues or supply shortages. The construction season is already upon us, and contractors have lost valuable time.
Typically, as listed on the City of Kamloops’ website, it takes 3 to 6 weeks to get a permit for single family residential, tenant improvements or simple commercial construction, and even longer for larger projects.
One specific thing the City of Kamloops can do is spend money to speed up the permitting stage so that contractors can get to work faster. It would be money well spent.
Second, the City could allow more temporary sidewalk restaurant patios. Getting a sidewalk patio in Kamloops requires fencing, proper size and location, and permits. Restaurants have already been hammered hard. Relaxing the City of Kamloops bylaws on sidewalk patios this summer would be a big help to restaurants who have been closed for weeks and weeks.
Allowing restaurants permission to put one or two tables and chairs on the sidewalk outside their restaurant could help them provide service while meeting restrictions on social distancing.
Third, the shortfall of funds going to Tourism Kamloops needs to be addressed. This organization is funded primarily by a 3% hotel room tax. This tax accounted for 75% of its revenue in recent years. With hotel occupancy at a record low, Tourism Kamloops’ revenue has taken a huge hit.
We all benefit from a strong tourism sector. The City of Kamloops, as well as the Thompson Nicola Regional District, need to provide added funds to Tourism Kamloops to help Tourism Kamloops get tourists back to Kamloops.
Finally, the economy is more than businesses. Others need to be at the table. There needs to be dialogues with Thompson Rivers University, which is bracing for possible losses of student numbers because of COVID-19. Organizations like the United Way, ASK Wellness, and the Kamloops Food Bank pick up the pieces that for-profit businesses can’t do. Their voices need to be heard too. Mayor Christian needs to include these players to his task force.
After weeks of lockdown, I think we’re all ready for things to start up again. Here’s hoping that Kamloops’ economy gets rolling again soon.
Nancy Bepple is a former City councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.