Aaron Stone of Uforik Computers shares his company’s story during a Small Business Community Awareness and Municipal Acknowledgement Event April 11 at the Ladysmith Chamber of Commerce office.

Aaron Stone of Uforik Computers shares his company’s story during a Small Business Community Awareness and Municipal Acknowledgement Event April 11 at the Ladysmith Chamber of Commerce office.

Celebrating small business in Ladysmith

Ladysmith was one of six B.C. communities chosen to host a community small business celebration event.

The Ladysmith Chamber of Commerce, Ladysmith Downtown Business Association (LDBA) and Town of Ladysmith have been getting together a lot in the past year or so to discuss economic development in our town, and two weeks ago, the focus was on small business success stories.

Ladysmith was one of six communities in B.C. to host a Small Business Community Awareness and Municipal Acknowledgement Event, and the Ladysmith Chamber of Commerce hosted the celebration April 11.

“We are here today to acknowledge small business awareness,” said Ladysmith Chamber of Commerce president Rob Waters.

The Small Business Community Awareness and Municipal Acknowledgement Event was about demonstrating Ladysmith’s ongoing commitment to supporting small business and also about recognizing how the community supports small business and to share the resources available to local small business owners.

“We have some good news stories of business success today, and my hope is that we might commit to forming a small committee to meet with council members to discuss ways and means to make our community more business-friendly,” said Waters. “It’s in all our interests to improve the economic and social fabric in our Ladysmith community.”

April 11 was Small Business Awareness Day, and the community celebration was meant to follow up on the Small Business Accord launched earlier this year.

The B.C. Small Business Accord contains a number of principles around critical issues for small business, including access to labour, streamlined regulation, and opportunities for small business through government procurement.

“The Accord is a work in progress to help small businesses be more profitable and successful,” said Waters. “Today, small business is facing many challenges in tough economic times, so any help from government is welcome.”

Last year, Ladysmith was one of six recipients of the B.C. Small Business Roundtable’s Most Business Friendly Community Award, and Mayor Rob Hutchins highlighted some of the steps the Town of Ladysmith has taken that have led to that recognition.

“As a community, we have collectively invested to make our community a beautiful place to live,” he said, highlighting how the community has beautified Ladysmith’s streets, improved its trails, improved its gateway entrances and so much other work that has taken place.

Hutchins pointed out how the Ladysmith Chamber of Commerce is sponsored by business licences, and he noted that Ladysmith is the only community in the Cowichan Valley that provides its business community with a yearly community profile.

Hutchins also explained how the Town of Ladysmith has worked over the years to shift the tax burden away from the commercial class, and he also highlighted how the Town, Chamber of Commerce, LDBA and Stz’uminus First Nation have started working together to talk about economic development.

“We’re listening, we’re working together, and we’re moving forward,” he said. “On behalf of council, thank you very much for your investment in our community and your willingness to grow our community.”

Small businesses employ more than 2,000 people in our community, and there are 500 business licences in Ladysmith, according to Hutchins.

During the event, several entrepreneurs shared success stories.

Dan Bowes of Western Forest Products (WFP) spoke about the changes he’s seen in the Saltair Sawmill since arriving here in February 2007 when, as he describes it, the mill was on its last legs, and it did not have a good business plan.

The mill needed to be modernized and needed a capital investment from the WFP board of directors, and Bowes says they saw many reasons to invest in Ladysmith, including the Town’s tax shift to reduce its reliance on the industrial class.

“They saw we had an engaged workforce, a good product and a good market,” he said. “They don’t put their money anywhere lightly. Clearly, they were looking for engagement in the community. The Town addressing the taxation issue was a leadership issue.”

As a result, WFP is investing $38 million into the mill, and this upgrade is underway.

“This will give this mill a shelf life of 28 years, maybe more,” said Bowes. “They’re committed. The leadership of the community, the people, and the engagement of the town are very important, and it’s clear it’s here.”

Peter Richmond of 49th Parallel Grocery spoke about how his company has grown from eight employees when his parents bought the company 35 years ago to 185 employees today, including 115 in Ladysmith.

“When we talk about our company, we like to talk about community,” he said. “We like to be involved in our community as much as we can. I think we’ve got to be pretty happy with what we’ve accomplished together; we should be proud.”

Sean Dunlop of Ladysmith Home Hardware Building Centre, Aaron Stone of Uforik Computers, Lesley Parent of 49th Parallel Printers and the LDBA, Carol Wagenaar of Terra-North Inc., which is developing Oyster Bay Quay, also shared their stories.