Rural communities in British Columbia face challenges such as shortage of workers, aging population, slower growth rate, and community capacity. Other issues include job opportunities for young people, more limited access to infrastructure, and lack of paved road networks.
British Columbia is the home to rural and urban communities which results in uneven economic development. On Vancouver Island, for example, the towns and cities are the home to the majority of the population while the rest live in small isolated communities that are difficult to access. Many in these remote areas were previously employed in resource-based sectors such as forestry and fishing but these occupations saw a considerable drop in employment over the years. People moved to towns and cities in search for jobs which led to population decline. This also resulted in population aging across rural Canada. Data shows that the labor force dwindled by 23 percent from around 1,475,000 to 1,132,000 in the period between 2001 and 2016. At the same time, the number of people close to retirement increased by more than 40 percent.
Challenges That Businesses Face
Businesses operating in remote rural areas face multiple challenges. While they see a tourism potential here because of unique cultural and geographic specifics, some communities are hard to reach due to the lack of paved roads while others are not accessible. Basic infrastructure is also lacking, including electricity, running water, telephone lines, and banking institutions. Developing infrastructure and making these communities accessible are the keys to economic development. The problem is that it takes time and resources to build infrastructure. The main challenge that municipalities face is limited budgets to finance multiple and often competing priorities. Grant funding is not always available to build and maintain wastewater and water systems, roads, and municipal buildings.
In comparison to companies in urban areas, businesses here are usually smaller and require a larger amount of labor, making less use of innovative technologies. They also face logistics problems mainly related to availability of financing, distance to potential markets, and lack of skilled labor force. Outside support is often lacking, and small businesses have learned the importance of self-reliance.
One problem is that they offer a limited selection of products and services, which makes diversification all the more important. For companies that operate in the tourism sector when tourist arrivals decline, they are forced to downscale or shut down. They also suffer due to the lack of essential infrastructure that tourists expect to see in rural communities, including running water, grocery stores, and banks. In some places, these enterprises are seasonal, which affects their relationship with partners, distributors, and suppliers. Given the remote location of some rural communities, tourists visiting them are usually not repeat customers. Because of this, experts highlight the importance of cross-marketing where local businesses come together when targeting customers.
What Can Be Done
One solution may be to attract skilled workers, including Indigenous people, newcomers to Canada, and young people. Retaining migrants is also important. When they find themselves out of work and long-term unemployed, they reach out to the local authorities for help. To retain workers moving to remote communities, local governments must also ensure that basic services are available. Such services and facilities are, for example, recreational and sports facilities, child care, public transit, and libraries. There is also shortage of affordable housing in some areas.
Retaining skilled workers is essential for businesses that lack not only financial but human resources. Local governments can form partnerships to share knowhow and resources, which will help strengthen their capacity to support community members and businesses that need assistance.
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