COLUMN: Set up shop in Surrey

A vibrant small business culture exists here and it is a key part of the city’s overall economic activity.

Surrey is open for business, while White Rock isn’t.

That’s the quick conclusion one can draw from a report by Vancity Credit Union entitled “Open For Business.” It looked at Metro Vancouver cities and assessed which were the best and worst ones to start businesses in.

In general, cities in the South Fraser region were rated quite highly. Surrey was first; Langley Township fourth; Langley City fifth; and Delta ninth. New Westminster also rated highly, coming in third.

Surrey took top spot for several reasons, with the booming population being a key factor. The population grew by 18.6 per cent from 2006 to 2011, and that growth in population automatically creates  new business opportunities.

Surrey also is considered to have reasonably low rates of property taxes, although those are rising substantially this year to pay for policing and other services which have had a tough time keeping up with population growth.

The cost of both commercial and residential property in Surrey is also more reasonable than in many other parts of the region. That makes it easier for an interested business person to set up in Surrey.

Another interesting finding is that family support for a new business is higher here than in other areas. This is partially due to the fact that Surrey has the highest percentage of homes financially supported by three or more adults – 4.7 per cent.

All the factors that propelled Surrey into top spot played a role in White Rock doing so poorly. It is second last, with only West Vancouver more unfavourable to new businesses.

Both likely do badly for some similar reasons – the cost of property and population demographics.

White Rock’s population is growing very slowly – likely the slowest in the South Fraser region. In addition, it has a high proportion of seniors within its boundaries. Many senior citizens do not spend as much as younger people.

Taxes are high, as is the cost of property. In addition, much of White Rock’s business is seasonal – particularly on the waterfront. A business that generates most of its income in three or four months can be a challenging one to operate, particularly if fixed costs continue for 12 months.

When walking or driving around White Rock, it is clear that some businesses do well. Most are well-established and have figured out how to keep their costs under control, while serving the pubic and maximizing profit potential. Some do outstanding jobs and have loyal customers.

There are virtually no big box stores in White Rock, but there are no shortage of them across the street in Surrey. Leakage to South Surrey is a continuing challenge for White Rock business operators, who at the same time pay higher taxes than their competitors a short distance away.

There is only so much White Rock can do. It would be worthwhile for the city to look closely at business costs that it does have control over, and see if there are any opportunities to reduce costs to business people.

Surrey, on the other hand, needs to also do its best to keep taxes and costs as low as possible. A vibrant small business culture does exist in Surrey and it is a key part of the city’s overall economic activity.

The report is a welcome and useful one, as it should encourage cities to keep doing what works well and look at way to make the business climate as favourable as possible.

Frank Bucholtz is the editor of The Langley Times. He writes weekly for The Leader


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