Local business is the heart of the community and a critical component of our economy. Small businesses employ almost ⅔ of all workers and over 95% of all businesses are small businesses. In Thunder Bay, three out of four of local businesses have fewer than 5 employees which speaks to the critical need to support local business.
Local business has had a rough few years with the pandemic driving many entrepreneurs to the brink of bankruptcy and rising interest rates making it difficult to finance growth. Our local government needs to step up and provide the right business supports and infrastructure to allow our community to thrive.
We need to stop relying on handouts and charity from the federal and provincial government. We need to stop waiting to be saved by a multinational corporation who will set up in town. We need to stop wasting taxpayer money on consultants and vanity projects and focus on real investments that will pay dividends for years.
We can invest in and rely on our own entrepreneurs and business people and make Thunder Bay a centre for growth and innovation in Canada.
Rebuild our infrastructure
Local business relies on high quality public infrastructure to operate. You can’t get to your customers on pothole filled roads. Basic interactions with the city still can’t be done online. Crime is keeping customers away from downtown business and homelessness deters people from shopping at their local retail stores. We need the physical and social infrastructure that supports local so our entrepreneurs can compete with Amazon and Walmart, keeping our money here.
Implement service standards and build a culture of ‘yes’
Our Chamber of Commerce has been crying out for years to build a culture of ‘yes’ amongst city staff. Too often when you need help or are searching for information the answer is no, roadblocks are put in your way or your shown the hoop you have to jump through. We need leadership who will force change and create a culture of ‘yes’ at the city. City employees need service standards to work towards, just like every private business. Every department should be implementing strategies to make it easier for citizens and business to get things done and grow our economy.
Act on the findings of the core services review and cut red tape
It’s been over 2 years and the city has done too little in response to the Core Services Review. We paid for the review, hired the consultants and got a roadmap for how the city can save money and become more efficient. However, our political leaders have largely sat on their hands and put this report into a deep, dark drawer.
We need real cost saving strategies at the city. Things like investing in automated water readings, managing our vehicle fleet better and a comprehensive IT and software strategy are the unsexy but effective ways we can reduce costs over the long term and get a strong return on investment for our tax dollars.
Invest in downtown revitalization and punish derelict landlords
Our downtowns represent a unique feature of our community. They serve as vibrant cultural spaces, incubators for local business, tourist attractions and where we gather as a city. While the north core is experiencing a revitalization and a number of planned investments by the city, our south core is crumbling.
We need to continue to invest in the north core to anchor it, along with the waterfront, as prime business and tourist space. We also need a comprehensive strategy to revitalize the south core. We should draw from inspirational examples, such as Youngstown, Ohio’s Neighbourhood Development Corporation, to use public as well as private dollars to invest in our neighbourhoods to turn them into affordable, vibrant centres.
At the same time, we need to get tough on those who would perpetuate crumbling, vacant property in the hopes of speculative profit. Owners who allow their properties to become a blight on the neighbourhood or who hoard developable vacant land should pay the price. Our community is in need of affordable housing, start-up space for business and clean, safe neighbourhoods. We have no patience for wealthy elites who allow their properties to become havens for blight, pests and pollution.
Encourage neighbourhood based business and fund local procurement
Our downtowns are destinations where we go to shop, eat and enjoy the city but our local neighbourhoods need small scale business too. We need more corner stores, hair salons, coffee shops and other kinds of small scale, neighbourhood appropriate retail. These kinds of micro businesses are the lifeblood of daily living – where we can buy a bag of milk, run into neighbours over a coffee and befriend business owners. Neighbourhood based business is proven to reduce crime, decrease loneliness, increase our health through walkability and generally improve the fabric of our lives.
We need to continue the work on zoning reform and actively promote and encourage micro scale neighbourhood appropriate business. We should fight business deserts and food deserts so that every neighbourhood has options in walking distance for where citizens can buy healthy food and to serve as a focal point for neighbourhood socializing.
We need to support local in our city’s procurement processes. The City of Thunder Bay is a huge purchaser of all kinds of goods and services – ranging from food for its seniors homes to paper for its offices. We know the return on investment local buying can have and we need to model that at the municipal level. Supporting our local businesses and entrepreneurs brings dividends in increased hiring, increased tax revenue and keeping our dollars local.
Make attracting Indigenous business a cornerstone of the city’s economic plan
We are failing Indigenous people on multiple levels but one under-appreciated aspect is the huge loss we are suffering from a business and economic growth perspective. Northern Ontario’s Indigneous population represents the largest untapped business opportunity our region has ever witnessed.
The Indigenous population is the fastest growing segment of our community and the future of our labour force. Indigenous entrepreneurs, creators, cultural innovators and political leaders could be basing their operations in Thunder Bay. We should be the hub for Indigenous workforce training, hosting Indigenous schools for youth, housing urban Indigenous communities and incubating Indigenous talent at all levels.
Thunder Bay needs a dual strategy of not only combating racism and discrimination but also an active approach to making Thunder Bay the most Indigenous friendly city in Canada. We need to develop relationships with Indigenous peoples as if the future of our city depends on it. Our tax base, population base, labour force, cultural relevance, social importance and political potential all depend on becoming the leading centre for Indigeneity in Canada.
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