Despite ongoing challenges caused by the pandemic, a majority of the Lloydminster business community still consider the city as a good place to do business.
City council was presented with the findings of the 2020 Business Climate Survey on January 18. This is the second year the city has conducted the survey. The survey focuses on the local economy, economic development, the needs for current and future businesses and the impact of COVID-19. It was done via telephone during November and had a response rate of 23 per cent which administration says is similar to the previous survey. A total of 100 businesses responded during the two week period.
Most businesses (74 per cent) reported a decrease in revenue over the past year as they felt the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. About 13 per cent say revenues stayed the same and 12 per cent had an increase. Looking towards the future, 11 per cent say they will downsize in the next two years, 11 per cent think they will be sold and four per cent think they will close. The survey does not take into account businesses that closed during the year.
One of the conclusions drawn from the survey was the fact that many businesses were satisfied with Lloydminster as a place to do business. On a ten point scale, 49 per cent of respondents scored their satisfaction as 8 or higher which is a three per cent increase from 2019.
Councillor Jonathan Torresan was surprised to see the high satisfaction rate but says the time when the survey was conducted may have played a factor.
“There was more optimism looking at 2021 than at 2020 at that moment in time. Whether or not that scale has moved three or four times since then as new information has come or different things have happened it’s really hard to say. We’re all living in this right now and every week feels a little bit better or worse and we’re all trying to get through it.”
Despite the high satisfaction rate, more businesses say their attitudes towards doing business in the city have turned more negative in the past year sitting at 39 per cent. It is a 10 per cent increase compared to 2019. About 51 per cent noted their attitude remained the same throughout the year. There was also a small drop in the likelihood to recommend Lloydminster as a place to do business. A total of 85 per cent of respondents say they would recommend the city which a 2 per cent decrease from the year before.
Specific areas that saw an increase in satisfaction included the availability of property and workers. However, some areas that need improvement were the roads and internet within the city as respondents were unhappy with the current services.
With $1.7 million set aside for street improvements as well as the over $6 million for the Highway 16 rehabilitation project scheduled for this year, Torresan says it’s a matter that needs constant attention.
“The biggest capital items that we are doing this year and putting our COVID funds towards are roadwork related items. It’s something we are conscious of and have to continue to improve on. Our roads will always breakdown so long as the snow still melts and refreezes at some point and creates rough roads but we’ll have to continue to stay on top of it.”
As far as the internet service issue, he notes the need for better internet has become evident as more businesses move online or shift staff to a work at home model. Mayor Gerald Aalbers adds students moving to remote learning models also exemplifies the need.
“The last ten months have challenged everyone [including] school children completing their projects as they work from home. It’s an ongoing project and we’re hoping to make more headway in the coming year. We’re still working on logistical issues on both sides.”
Both say the city as well as the Chamber of Commerce will continue to advocate for better services. The key takeaways the city will address following the survey are to provide a strong base for businesses after the pandemic, providing financial assistance where possible, promoting the shop local messaging and developing post-pandemic strategies and initiatives.
“We’ll continue to address the business community in various aspects through the Chamber of Commerce, reaching out to small and medium sized business which the city manager has done on a quarterly basis, bringing groups of 10-12 businesses together from a broad selection and getting their input. What are we getting right? What can we do to help make things better for them? We’re trying on several fronts to address those concerns in the community.”
Aalbers says he is looking forward to the next business survey to see where the business community sits following the potential COVID-19 recovery.
Oil and gas
In terms of Lloydminster’s strengths and challenges, a large portion of respondents mentioned the mining, oil and gas industry to be a strength and a challenge. Comments mention while the city is a centralized location for the industry, the downturns create a large impact on the community. Recently it was reported, U.S. President-elect Joe Biden would scrap the permits for the Keystone XL pipeline on his first day in office.
The project has been touted as one of the three critical conduits for the Canadian oil and gas sector by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Since the issue emerged, Trudeau has responded saying he will continue to fight for the pipeline and present the merits of the project to the Biden administration. Mayor Aalbers says the key message that should be pressed is the ethical nature of the project.
“If the oil is not coming from Canada, it has to come from somewhere else where it is not as ethically produced, nor is it environmentally sensitive produced as it is in Canada. We do a great job of producing oil in this country and we have for a long time and we continue to get better. That’s the message that needs to get out to America is we are not producing dirty oil.”