In October of this year, the City of Maple Ridge hosted an economic development summit.
One of the first speakers, appearing with a video message, was the federal Minister of Small Business Rechie Valdez.
“Small businesses are the backbone of the Canadian economy,” she said. “The impact they have on our daily lives is truly amazing.”
“In fact, 98 per cent of businesses in Canada are small businesses.”
In Maple Ridge, one of the city’s key economic development strategies is to grow small business.
Industry Canada defines companies with 50 employees or less as small business, and they are responsible for 69 per cent of the total labour force.
The city’s Economic Development director Tyler Westover makes it his business to both try and attract new small businesses to the city, and to support the existing businesses so they grow.
“It’s not enough for them to survive, we want them to thrive,” he said.
Westover saw two big things came out of the conference.
“One of them is obviously the new brand, and the direction that we’re going is that Maple Ridge is on the move,” he said. “We’re a city that’s in transition, we’re seeing really good, authentic movement to see a great Maple Ridge.”
The new logo and revitalized identity are designed to change perceptions, enhance the city’s reputation, and provide a foundation for marketing the city.
READ ALSO: City of Maple Ridge unveils new branding
The professional community booster sees a city where the population is exploding at twice the national average, as it closes in on 100,000 residents. It’s a place the provincial housing minister has targeted as having potential to address the housing crisis, with many more units on the way. As residential buildings go up, the demand for goods and services increases.
The city is forecast to have growth rate of 10.8 per cent growth over the next five years.
Also attractive to businesses, it has one of the youngest populations in the region, with two-thirds of residents of working age, between 15-64.
“This is a community that I think is right on the cusp of some pretty substantial investment, substantial city building…” said Westover.
Another outcome from the summit was the desire to maintain the connection to people who have helped build the community, and maintaining the passion for the city that’s already there.
Westover has been well travelled through his career, and said in a year in Maple Ridge he has met a lot of passionate small business people, and he lists many – proprietors at businesses like Humble Roots, Silver Valley Farms, Ponderosa Mushrooms, and Bruce’s Market.
“It’s great to see these companies doing well, and they have high-quality products,” he said.
He’s heard public criticism that there is not enough retail shopping locally – it was an issue raised by voters in the last municipal election.
But Westover is reserving judgment about that issue until he gets real data – and it’s coming. The city is conducting a retail market analysis, with public engagement open until Nov. 17.
“Maybe what we need to do is showcase what is available here as well,” he said. “Let’s reintroduce people to businesses. Or if they’re new to the community, it’s a chance to say ‘what is in your backyard.”
He said the revelations in the retail analysis will be important to local entrepreneurs, and potential newcomers.
“We want to really support the retailers who are existing here, as well as showcase the opportunity for investment,” he said.
“What are people buying? What’s our consumer behaviour? Where’s our defined trade area, and what are the opportunities?”
The analysis could lead to new products being offered by established businesses, and offer good information to prospective businesses, and those who own commercial property can see what kinds of companies would have the best chance of success.
“What is the level of economic leakage,” he said.
“It’s good information that we can give to business folks.”
Westover said his department works in close partnership with the Ridge Meadows Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Maple Ridge Business Improvement Association. It is guided by city council, and he notes Mayor Dan Ruimy is a former entrepreneur with a passion for small business.
He’s formalizing business retention and expansion efforts, with a new advisor having joined his department. They will look at barriers and successes.
They work with small businesses when they are looking for connections with local products, information about specific sites, senior government grants, labour programs, and connections to business groups and city programs.
The City of Pitt Meadows finished an economic Development Strategic Plan in the summer of 2023. It too calls for a focus on strengthening local business. It also aims to ensure a supply of well-situated commercial and industrial land, as well as building on key assets including the airport, recreation assets, and agriculture.
The city’s stated vision for economic development is: “To enhance our small-town character and lifestyle by supporting local business viability, attracting investment and visitors, and building on our essential agricultural resources.”