What is Penticton doing for business?

In the last year or so, you may have heard news about Penticton receiving an award for being Open for Business, named the Top 20 Entrepreneurial City in Canada, and being nominated for Golden Scissors Award. The awards are something to be proud of, but what does it really mean and how does that affect local businesses?

The South Okanagan has always been tough market. We have a larger proportion of the population that is over 65, below average provincial incomes compared to other regions in B.C. or on social assistance.

Despite the doom and gloom, we have several very successful businesses, as showcased at the last few Penticton & Wine Country Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence Awards. Those events feature many young entrepreneurs both in attendance and as nominees, which is extremely encouraging.

The City embraces initiatives to nurture economic development from many angles. This isn't meant to be an opportunity to pump council's tires, but we have implemented Economic Investment Zones (EIZ), lowered building permit fees and recently added a payment plan for electrical infrastructure upgrades to help spur on development and business growth. The EIZ program helped us win the Open for Business Award, as it offers tax incentives on the improvement value of land. Some people mistake our EIZ program with giving away our tax revenues; however, if the project hadn't been built, the City would not have received any increased tax revenue. If a development or expansion might happen eventually, but an incentive zone jump-starts the project, we get the added benefit of economic development and job creation now. That's a win-win for the City, business and community.

We are very fortunate to own our electrical utility, and we try to operate it at a separate division that supports the City in other ways. Power is the one constant that most businesses have to consume and can be a significant monthly expense. Our rates are competitive, but unlike the other large power utilities, profits get returned back to the community in the form of capital works programs that replace vital infrastructure.

We have to be careful when we compare operational costs – in some areas we are a little more, in some areas a little less. Some regions may be cheaper, but don't have all the amenities like in our community that add quality of life or help with employee recruitment and retention. We can't have our cake and eat it too. Council did commit to a utility rate review to compare our rates to others, determine what our costs of service are per rate class, evaluate our rate classes, and how our administrative charges and reserves compare. Perhaps there is a way to leverage owning our own utility to help attract, and expand business growth and retention.

Council is also spending more time focusing on economic development opportunities. The 2015 budget saw an increase in this area, and task forces on tourism, economic prosperity and affordable housing support business in a holistic way.

There is no magic formula, but it requires a determined and committed Council, dedicated hard-working staff, and the creation of a comfort and confidence level for the development and business community to see the opportunity and potential Penticton has to offer so they invest.

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Interesting fact: We developed that "We are Open for Business" logo above for posters during Downtown Revitalization. The DPA businesses were each given one during construction - and we were thrilled to each each one had the poster displayed proudly in their window.