With a second wave of the pandemic swelling in British Columbia, city and business leaders in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows are trying to remain as buoyant as possible.
Keeping the local economy afloat is of paramount importance, and putting some wind in its sails for when the commercial seas are calmer is vital, too, said Wendy Dupley.
The City of Maple Ridge’s director of economic development was upbeat about the region’s prospects.
“There’s a lot of things to be optimistic about here,” she said.
Dupley pointed to new patios popping up along the 224th Street hospitality strip, and small – socially distanced events – which drew citizens to the downtown core for live music and picnics – as evidence of a small return to economic vibrancy.
In addition to an apparent uptick in business, Dupley pointed to some concrete numbers around hiring demand.
“There’s some good indicators that we’re pulling back,” she said, adding Maple Ridge had the best quarter of 2020 for job postings, according to a report from the Vicinity Jobs database, which provides labour market information across Canada.
“In Maple Ridge we’re faring a little bit better than the provincial average,” she said.
“Our job postings show that we’re down 12.7 per cent from the same quarter last year, but certain occupations have proven extremely resilient.”
The city’s economic development director said opportunities in trades have gone up 300 per cent since last year, while postings for home-support workers, and childcare providers have risen by 150 per cent.
Retail has proven strong, as well, with four out of five of the city’s top employers for the third quarter of 2020 having storefronts. The City of Maple Ridge, itself, had the sixth most job postings in the same time period, but has had the most locally this year.
Dupley said she is pleased to see the federal government continue its support, amid COVID.
“I think the big one is, they’re taking a fresh look at the rent relief program,” she said.
In Dupley’s opinion, there was a major flaw with the previous rent relief program, in which business owners had to apply through their commercial landlord. This was particularly hard on business owners who lease government-owned property.
‘If the property is owned by a local, provincial, or federal government, the occupant wasn’t allowed to apply for rent relief because the government couldn’t apply for the program,” Dupley explained. “So this new take will sort out that component, too.”
A community leaders forum is expected for early December, she added.
“Elected officials will gather virtually and talk about the pandemic, outline their vision, and discuss how the city can continue to rebuild, and be resilient,” Dupley explained.
While the president of the Chamber of Commerce Serving Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows was not as bullish, he did say his organization has been doing its best to keep its members apprised of any pandemic-related developments locally, provincially, and federally when appropriate.
Al Hogarth said the group has quite a network across the country, and lauds the local team for keeping its website up-to-date with information on COVID-19 business resources.
“We try to be as involved as possible,” he said, before noting the local chamber has seen a slight boost in its membership since the pandemic began.
“We’ve held our numbers pretty steady and we’ve even seen some new businesses join. So there’s obviously some interest in what the chamber’s doing, and how we’re informing people.”
Hogarth was careful not to make any predictions on what the future holds.
“It’s tough to say. I don’t think anybody’s got a crystal ball,” said the former Maple Ridge mayor, realtor, and developer.
He did say the region’s reputation as a bedroom community might benefit local businesses as more and more employees – who would have commute elsewhere pre-COVID – start working from home.
“It’s rather exciting to keep people in the neighbourhoods in our community,” he noted. “If they’re working from home, maybe they spend a little more money locally.”
In Pitt Meadows, chief administrative officer Mark Roberts, said the city acted quickly to support its valuable business community when the pandemic hit.
Council initiated an economic resiliency task force, which provided for a number of local busineses, he said.
“We successfully promoted many businesses to allow for a higher uptake from the community to go back and support them.”
Roberts said it went so well, council decided the task force – which would normally have only been temporary – should remain.
“They have actually directed staff to come back to council with terms of reference, and information around an economic development advisory committee that will couple with tourism, as well,” he elaborated.
“Previous to COVID-19, they wanted to form a tourism committee, and now they believe tourism can be a sub-component of a larger economic development committee that has an ongoing support process.”
Like Hogarth, Roberts said the coming months are difficult to pin down.
“The businesses are just trying to hang on,” he said. “So we hope they don’t see any more restrictions from the provincial health officer around how they can operate.”