May 27th, 2020

Business Beat: The Results are in and business has spoken

By SANDRA BLYTH on January 29, 2020.

In previous articles, I’ve addressed how a sound community economic action plan requires business to be at the front end of what we’re doing. You can’t identify economic problems and implement solutions without the insight of local business. No one understands the issues and have thought about how to solve them more than businesses themselves. Thus, we as a community need them at the table helping shape decisions for the future.

This is remains the thrust behind BREWD – our Business Retention, Expansion and Work Force Development strategy. Invest Southeast Alberta (ISA) and its partnership of regional business, government and service agencies including Invest Medicine Hat (IMH) locally continues to develop a joint economic action plan, share necessary resources, and provide support for the growth of a thriving business environment.

Research steps including two comprehensive online business surveys that engaged 476 business respondents (two per cent response rate) and 341 work/job seekers; 50 in-person interviews with key employers; and 10 surveys with workforce training and service providers are now complete.

While the research overall has revealed quite optimistic results, there were many important business issues raised by survey respondents and also a number of insightful suggestions on what wasn’t working and how to facilitate business growth.

A collation of qualitative responses to the question “What is the single biggest barrier to your business’s expansion?” reflect issues of concern in the business community.

Besides economic concerns, labour attraction and training issues were by far the most commonly mentioned business challenges in the BREWD survey and employer interviews.

Twenty-eight percent of respondents in the BREWD survey expect the number of employees in their organization will increase, while only seven per cent expect a decrease. Approximately 40 per cent of businesses are experiencing hiring challenges, and 24 per cent have issues retaining workers.

These are significant proportions of the business base. There were 313 affirmative responses to the question, “Are you currently experiencing any challenges recruiting/hiring workers in these general categories?”

The key now is understanding what the data tells us and moving from study to action. That is identifying priority problem areas, creating viable solutions, and implementing action-based strategies for improvement. Here’s a look at the remaining next steps in the process:

Phase 1: RESEARCH

1. Finalize Survey Research Report – present findings from our primary and secondary research and use this data to determine overarching themes or opportunities within our business environment (January). 

2. Facilitate Research Review Meetings – work with BREWD team members to assess the findings of the Survey Research report, providing further insight into identifying potential roadblocks and their solutions (January).

Phase 2: SOLUTIONS

3. Host Task Force Retreat and Set Priorities – engage a broader cross-section of community leaders to set priorities and determine which solution-based projects should be actioned and who specifically will lead them forward (February).

4. Prepare Final Summary Report of Priority Actions – outline projects ranked in order of priority and assigned project leaders (March).

Phase 3: IMPLEMENTATION

5. Host Economic Growth Forum – community celebration and official launch of the projects moving into action; communicate the commitment of local businesses, organizations and institutions to the growth of our local economy (May/June).

6. Implement Action Plans – leaders will be positioned and plans for action will be initiated (June 2020- June 2023).

7. Evaluate Projects and Monitor Progress – measure progress, continue to align priorities, make necessary updates and celebrate successes throughout this entire process. Follow up is key to these action plans! (Ongoing).

Together, by enhancing cooperation and consensus among business and community stakeholders, we will develop a relevant and attainable community action plan for economic prosperity. Find out more and join the business movement at http://www.investsoutheastalberta.ca. Become a subscriber and access all the reports as they become available.

Sandra Blyth is the Director of Economic Development with Invest Medicine Hat and member of the Leadership Team with Invest Southeast Alberta

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