Penticton was recently ranked as the fourth-best place to be an entrepreneur in the province, but some business owners take issue with the blanket statement.
“I think it is industry dependent,” said Kim Blagborne, president of Slimline Manufacturing in Penticton. “I don’t know that it is the best place to be a certain style of entrepreneur. I don’t think it is fair to paint such a broad brush stroke.”
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business ranked Penticton behind Kelowna, Prince George and Port Alberni respectively, in a recent report. Blagborne said there is a lot of entrepreneurship in the Okanagan Valley that is computer based, with no real physical presence like a manufacturing business.
“It is a great entrepreneurial place to be if you are a single business with a home-based satellite type of thing. I know of 10 or 15 off the top of my head that are enjoying an incredible lifestyle from it, but as a statement to cover all sectors, I don’t view it as the same scenario,” said Blagborne. “It is a conscious decision to be here based on the lifestyle, but if it was purely business, this wouldn’t be in the top. In my case if I truly was going after the best place to manufacture for trucking, commerce and economics, it would be in the U.S., hands down, because costs of shipping, goods, labour, living would drop.”
The beauty of the area is an obvious benefit to operating a business in Penticton, but there are many challenges for a growing business here said Blagborne. One is attracting young families or young people as employees because of the high cost of living and lower wages.
“If anybody here in the valley is manufacturing for a marketplace that is world competitive, wages are a huge issue. It makes it very difficult to attract people here based on wage and the other big issue for the valley for everybody, including myself, is that it is very difficult to attract a new employee here and find a job for their spouse,” said Blagborne.
It is the exact situation that Cathy Jones found herself in. Jones moved to Penticton from Alberta with her husband, who was hired for a job in the city. She decided to open the retail giftware store Random Thoughtz on Main Street rather than wait for a job to come up for her.
“I have been in sales for 30-plus years, in the retail and wholesale and owned my own real estate company in Slave Lake. Weather for one was what brought us here and my husband got his job and I thought, OK time to start a new career. I always wanted to have my own business, I just never knew where it would be, and voila it is here,” said Jones. “Ask me a year ago if I would be opening up a retail store in Penticton and I would have said no way.”
Jones has adapted, she believes, with a diverse selection of jewelry, clothing and unique gifts that can’t be found at box stores and at the right price point she believes will be successful. Already she has had a number of people checking out her store and is offering appointments to help people find the perfect gift. Jones already has her eyes on expansion and opening up a section called “the man cave,” where presents for the sports nut can be found. She also has diversified in that she has a reiki area in the back of the store and a sitting room where customers can host book clubs at night.
The CIFB report, Communities in Boom: Canada’s Top Entrepreneurial Cities, compares 100 of Canada’s large and mid-sized municipalities on 12 different indicators — Penticton ranked 31st overall. Penticton economic development officer David Arsenault said the city has moved up 26 places overall since the 2009 report.
“As a community we are making strategic decisions that support entrepreneurial development. We have a diverse business community that understand the importance of always being ahead of the curve,” said Arsenault.
In B.C. small to medium enterprises account for 98 per cent of all business. They are also attributed to over a million jobs in 2010.
“The Okanagan remains to be a leader in entrepreneur development and as a valley our organization is working collectively with other communities in the Okanagan to promote and support new ventures. We’re moving in the right direction and we just need to continue all the hard work to further improve our community,” said Arsenault.