An innovative pilot project to help strengthen Lake Country’s local economy is being launched this week.
Lake Country, along with Kelowna, West Kelowna, Peachland and Westbank First Nation, will be included in the first Business Walks program launched in Canada.
On Thursday, Oct. 4, local businesses will be visited by a trio consisting of Lake Country Mayor James Baker, a member of the Regional District of the Okanagan planning staff and a Lake Country Chamber of Commerce business community volunteer to ask how the business landscape can be improved.
The three specific questions to be asked are: “How is business?”; “What do you like about doing business in your area?”; and “How can business be improved?”
More than 300 businesses across the Central Okanagan will get an unscheduled pop-in visit, with the information gathered being used to track the pulse of a given business community and help identify needed programs and services.
“Civic leaders can better connect with businesses in their communities through the face-to-face conversation that is initiated, and identify and remove barriers to doing business in their areas,” said Corie Griffiths, business development officer with the Central Okanagan Development Commission, the regional district-funded agency which is heading up the Business Walks initiative.
“Member-driven organizations such as business improvement associations and chambers of commerce can tailor their services to the expressed needs of the businesses they serve.”
Griffiths said the Business Walks concept originated in Sacramento, California, a model that other U.S. communities have since enlisted.
Griffiths said while surveys have shown the Central Okanagan is a popular place to start a business and for attracting entrepreneurs, she said a weak connection between business service agencies and providers with local municipal governments has also been pointed out.
“I think this program is one way to help enhance that connectivity between local government, businesses and their service providers,” Griffiths said.
Other areas to be focused on across the region will be downtown Kelowna, the Uptown Rutland Business Improvement Area, downtown Peachland, Westbank and the Westbank First Nation commercial strip along Highway 97.
Griffiths said planners have been publicizing for weeks about the upcoming event, hoping that local business owners will be ready to answer their questions and give them feedback.
“It’s kind of a leap of faith in that we’re not setting up scheduled visits, but we hope to visit with 300 businesses across the region for this project,” said Griffiths, noting that effort will involve about 70 volunteer business leader “walkers.”
Marvin Farkas, president of the Lake Country Chamber of Commerce, said local support for the Business Walks concept is evident by the local volunteer participation.
“We have more volunteers taking part than does Kelowna or West Kelowna, but I think that has to do with being a smaller community…there is a personal attachment here between businesses and the greater community,” Farkas said.
“We see each other on a daily basis during and outside of the normal business day, and we all have a lot invested in our community.”
Farkas sees the event as a great opportunity to have the concerns of the local business community raised.
“The mayor and council members hear from us as representatives of our business community all the time, but I think it’s great that individuals can have this opportunity to talk to the mayor and members of council about concerns they have,” Farkas said.
“It’s a chance to have business owners express their views about the community and how some things might be improved.”