With the West Shore business community expanding steadily, the Chamber of Commerce is trying to get a handle on where capital is coming from and how it is influencing the community.
To do this the WestShore Chamber of Commerce is conducting a study with the help of Royal Road University graduate student Debbie Nussbaum. The project focuses on companies with holdings in the West Shore and looks at where they are from and what their money brings to, or takes away, from the community.
“It was raised by one of our directors who was a tenant and was going around looking for space and was appalled at how he was treated, even as a prospective tenant,” said Chamber CEO Dan Spinner. “He had an ultimately good experience but he started off with a couple of really bad experiences. And he was paying pretty much top dollar for a commercial space.”
The survey started last summer with interviews with commercial tenants. It then moved on to analyzing who owns what in the West Shore and talking to the owners about their plans and approaches. Now the survey is focusing on property managers.
Nussbaum is looking at demographics, relationships with primary commercial owners and other avenues shedding light on her overall look at the long term socioeconomic impact of large scale, non-resident commercial investment in the community. The ultimate goal is to create a map story of major commercial properties in the three communities on the West Shore with the largest populations: Colwood, Langford and View Royal.
“It’s highly interesting,” Nussbaum said. “I’ve been talking to politicians, I’ve been talking to property developers, some property owners … and I’m getting interesting perspectives coming back.”
WestShore Chamber of Commerce has around 600 members, and expects to reach 700 by the end of the year. The information from the survey will be used to see if there are any trends or patterns emerging in how the business community on the West Shore is moving forward.
While local money generally has more value for a community, Spinner is avoiding the assumption that local necessarily equals better.
Whether the money and management for developments and business is coming from within or without there is the potential for it to be a highly positive presence in the community, Spinner said. By the same token, bad business practices are bad business practices, regardless of where they originate from.
“From a community engagement, shared values point of view, you’re more likely to make more progress with local owners,” Spinner said. “But that doesn’t automatically mean that that’s true.”
Spinner said it’s lucky the three biggest projects on the go on the West Shore (Capitol City Centre, Westhills and Royal Bay) are locally backed projects. He said in those cases it’s a good thing, especially considering Royal Bay was almost bought up by an out-of-province landholding company that would have likely sat on the property as an investment.
A large landholder who’s really just taking dollars out of the West Shore,” Spinner said. “I’m glad we got the capital, I’m glad we were able to develop whatever it was, but if they’re not engaged … in the community and it’s just strictly dollars and cents, I’m not sure necessarily that’s in our best interest.”
The report, which won’t be completed until the end of March, will come with some specific recommendations. The information will ultimately be used as a platform for the Chamber to use moving forward.
One idea is to create something like a landlord of the year award to promote positive community-minded business practices.
“It’s a phenomenal area,” said Nussbaum. “I’ve met a lot of really good people, and I’ve learned a lot of very interesting information. We’ll see how it all washes out.”
The information will also be presented to the planning departments of West Shore municipalities to help them make decisions in regards to developments and other business issues.
“It certainly will help our councillors and our planning staff have just that extra perspective on their particular town,” Spinner said.