Pacific Insight is one of the largest manufacturing employers in the Nelson area. Photo courtesy of the Chamber of Commerce

Housing shortage hampers local manufacturers

Report outlines challenges for growing local industry

There are more manufacturing jobs in Nelson than people think, and most companies are expecting growth in the coming years according to a recently released report from the Chamber of Commerce. That’s something executive director Tom Thomson is thinking about a lot these days.

“We were really happy to get the report completed,” Thomson told the Star.

“We had gone through a business retention and expansion program in 2015, and one thing that came out of that was we should look at the manufacturing sector and dive a little deeper.”

To create the 56-page West Kootenay Manufacturing Study, authors Paul and Brenda Wiest of Cornerstone Consulting approached 64 local manufacturers, each with a minimum of five employees, and then invited them to either complete a survey online or book a one-on-one interview.

In the introduction, they acknowledge the economic significance of the local manufacturing sector.

“Manufacturing is an important economic driver as it accounts for more than 400,000 jobs in the province of B.C. and approximately nine per cent of provincial GDP. The Kootenays accounts for 3.1 per cent of all manufacturing jobs or 12,400 jobs,” it reads.

The Wiests presented their report last week during Business after Business, a monthly event hosted by the chamber. Their PowerPoint itemized the findings and gave local business owners an idea of the area’s big picture concerns.

Housing, apprenticeships, education

Ultimately, 34 surveys were completed and 91 per cent of those contacted opted to participate in an interview. In their key findings, the authors listed lack of housing, a dearth of apprenticeship opportunities and the disconnect between educational opportunities and jobs as some of the primary concerns of local employers.

None of the findings especially surprised Thomson, and much of it confirmed what he’s already seen firsthand. Though the report acknowledges there is currently a “negative perception of manufacturing jobs” — people think they’re dirty, unsafe and low-paying — he said that’s far from the truth.

“When you look at all the manufacturers in the area, you’re talking about close to 75 million dollars in payroll so it’s kind of an economy we tend to forget about, and we want to make sure we don’t forget about it,” he said.

“We think the manufacturing sector, everything from Pacific Insight to Lillie and Cohoe to the local craft breweries making great beer, they’re all manufacturing a product that’s beneficial to our area.”

Thomson said the report lays bare some of the struggles the sector is having, such as matching post-secondary education trajectories with their corresponding careers.

According to him, work is being done to bridge gaps — this week he invited new School District 8 superintendent Christine Perkins and representatives from Selkirk College, as well as local employers, to a session exploring apprenticeship opportunities.

“We were trying to uncover skills shortages and training opportunities. The Chamber will be in an advocacy position to work with Selkirk College and the provincial government, and any opportunity where we can take the word forward from our study is very, very important.”

Some of the other recommendations put forward by the Wiests include creating a mechanism for manufacturers to network, enhancing their profile in the region, improving communication so people know about existing programs and services, and hosting information events that will help them develop their competitive edge.

The report has already been distributed to the manufacturers involved and their advisory board, and will ultimately be posted on the Discover Nelson website.

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