Jodi Christianson, owner of Rustic Elements Flowers and Gifts, is almost in her seventh year of business in 100 Mile House. (Melissa Smalley - 100 Mile Free Press)

Jodi Christianson, owner of Rustic Elements Flowers and Gifts, is almost in her seventh year of business in 100 Mile House. (Melissa Smalley - 100 Mile Free Press)

Boosting ‘delicate’ economy in 100 Mile an ongoing effort

Raising the profile of existing businesses - and attracting new ones - essential

The District of 100 Mile House is looking at ways to boost the profile and visibility of businesses across the region, as part of its updated Economic Development Strategy.

Coun. Maureen Pinkney said while economic uncertainty is nothing new in this community, one of the steps in a more short-term strategy is to ensure people know what’s available.

“We are looking into having some kind of a handout or booklet printed that will list everything we have,” Pinkney said, noting that such a guide was available in all businesses many years ago.

“People don’t know what’s here anymore.”

The move is essential to the overall economic health of the region, according to the district’s new strategy. The report notes more than 60 per cent of survey respondents said they shop outside of 100 Mile House at least once a month – spending more than $150 – because the services or products they’re seeking are not available locally.

“We are very aware that our economy here is very delicate and has been for a very long time,” Pinkney said. “It’s been way too forestry-based. When mills lose shifts, and this has been off and on for 50 years, everyone panics. The thing that has changed is that we don’t have 1,000 people working at the mills.”

Making sure shoppers are aware of her store’s presence is something Jodi Christianson has strived for in her six years of owning Rustic Elements Flowers and Gifts.

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“I’ve done a lot of social media and advertising, and I still get those people who I see walk by for coffee all the time, and I see that lightbulb go off when they notice that the store is still not empty,” Christianson said. “It’s been open now longer than it was empty.”

She notes there have been many initiatives in the community to boost local businesses – Chamber of Commerce campaigns and features by Love 100 Mile House – but there’s always room to do more.

“We have so many new people here as well. The opportunity for businesses to get their names out there without the big expense, to really highlight this is who we are and what we have to offer, is so important,” she said.

Frankie Vitorino, who has owned The Outlaw Urban Clothing for more than two decades, has seen plenty of ups and downs. The past four years alone have seen Vitorino’s store survive wildfires, mill closures and a global pandemic.

“It would be nice to have a regular year, I don’t know what that looks like anymore,” Vitorino said.

Both Christianson and Vitorino said they have noticed an uptick in local shoppers throughout COVID-19, which they suspect is as a result of travel restrictions and perhaps a desire to support local businesses that have suffered over the past year-and-a-half.

But encouraging shoppers to spend their money locally has always been a challenge, Vitorino said, adding it’s essential to educated community members about the far-reaching impacts of shopping locally.

“When you shop online, do you ask those places for a donation for an event or fundraiser?” she said. “People have to realize that if you don’t shop local, you won’t have local options anymore.”

Pinkey said it is also important to attract new entrepreneurs to the community. When longtime business owners are ready to retire, the town needs young, energetic community members to take the reins.

“If they don’t manage to sell their business and it closes, pretty soon we’re going to have nothing,” she said.

Pinkney pointed to the BC Provincial Nominee Program Entrepreneur Immigration Regional Pilot, which has successfully recruited one candidate who is in the process of moving to 100 Mile House to open a cotton manufacturing plant.

“Hopefully we can get some more people on the ground for site visits through that program,” Pinkney said, noting it had been extended for another three years.

“There were five applicants approved by the district, and if each of those provide 30 to 50 jobs, 150 new jobs in this town is enormous.”

The applicants approved by the district still require provincial approval, Pinkney said, and district staff is hoping as COVID restrictions ease, more applicants will come to the area.

Pinkney encourages residents and business owners to read the Economic Development Strategy – available in full on the district website.

“You want to make sure that when you’re putting something like this together, that it’s not a document that just sits on the shelf,” she said.

“Now we have this document that we can work out of and get businesses the help they need.”

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