Op/Ed: Change brings challenges

Alan Peterspm appears as a guest "In the Spotlight" to talk about Grand Forks' changing economy.

In a column appearing in the July 2 edition of the Gazette under the headline “Not yet transitioning,” Roy Ronaghan posed some questions around my May 14 article where I had suggested our town was in (economic)  transition.

The questions raised were what specific new businesses are flourishing? Are established businesses thriving?  What service niches need to be filled?  And so on. Rather than do your columnists’ work for him, I can tell him that I count nine new or expanded businesses, in the city, that have started up or expanded  since we moved here in March 2012. I invite him to walk around the town and see if he can spot them.

At the same time, take a moment to talk to people working in our traditional industries: logging, lumber, construction, food production, nursery production, trucking, hauling, fabrication. All are busy, some very busy.

The point is, that in this town, the empty storefronts are a visible sign of a changing economy, but more specifically, a changing retail industry. Economic change always brings dislocations and business challenges. The trick is to move with the changing times and identify markets and needs that will support a business.

A local hothouse business has been successful in marketing hot house cucumbers, strawberries and other vegetables, both in the local grocery stores and at the farmers market. The new (last year) restaurant and catering business The Wooden Spoon offers high quality organic and locally sourced foods, and is doing very well. Also new last year, and all the way down at Christina Lake, Ravenous offers vegetarian food choices, also using mainly locally sourced products, and is extremely busy.  There is a new art store/teaching studio on Market Ave., and beside it a recently-opened, fully-equipped gym/fitness facility.  Both are thriving. These are just a few examples of new businesses that have seen an opportunity, in a niche market, and went for it.

Last weekend there was an article in the Globe and Mail about the impact Albertans are having on the real estate market in the Okanagan in 2014, not just in Kelowna, but in Penticton and as far south as Osoyoos. In some areas, up to 50 per cent of the new purchasers of homes were from Alberta. Surely this is the tip of the iceberg, and how long will it be before some of these Albertans, or displaced Okanagan residents, start venturing further afield and discover our beautiful valley? I suspect it is already happening.

As Ronaghan correctly suggests, demographics will drive future changes. An influx of retirees will bring opportunities and jobs in construction, home renovation, leisure and cultural activities, health care, financial planning, restaurants, seniors housing and in-home services, to name a few. Many of these retirees will actively engage themselves in our valley, contributing to our community in all sorts of ways, and bringing with them a lifetime of valuable experience and skills. There are many prosperous, vibrant towns in British Columbia with a big retiree presence, and Grand Forks will soon be one of them.

Transition is an ongoing process, it is nothing new; our town has been a transitioning town since it was founded.The many relics of our economic past are visible reminders of transition, and that we are part of a big outside world. We are transitioning, and will continue to do so, as long as there are people living in this valley.

What we need to be is optimistic and have the confidence that this valley has the assets, both physical and in its people, to embrace transition, and thrive on change. We need to pay attention, and know what is actually going on in our valley. We cannot afford to be parochial;  “outsiders”  will cause some of the changes here, whether we like it or not. That is the nature of the economic, connected world in which we live.

And there will always be the “ nagging nabobs of negativism”  (to coin a phrase) amongst us, the few who see a ghost town in each store closure and looming failure in the opening of every new business.

The form of our continuing economic transition and how it is shaped to benefit our future is up to us, but the starting point is being a community with a positive attitude. Achieve that, and the rest is easy.