By: Patricia Ross, Abbotsford City Councillor and Chair of GroYourBiz Abbotsford
Most responsible citizens consider it their duty to vote in elections, yet turnout for local government elections is the lowest in contrast to Federal and Provincial. Ironically, local government makes a far greater impact to both your professional and personal lives. It is the most open, accountable, efficient and accessible level of government. The decisions made there affect everything in your daily lives, from the water you drink, to the air you breathe; what you can do on your own property and economic competitiveness. Local government representatives are far easier to reach personally and even if your concern is not within their local jurisdiction, they can often lobby senior levels on your behalf.
Part of being a sustainable community is ensuring people can work in the community they live-in, that everything they need can be enjoyed and purchased locally and that they are happy living there. Local Government representatives don’t like to hear complaints that businesses or citizens have to go to another community for their needs or that they want to move away. We work very hard to ensure both your personal happiness and business competitiveness and are always striving to improve.
For businesses, it is similar – you are constantly striving to provide what your customer needs because you don’t want them to go elsewhere. It makes sense for us to work together, yet it is surprising how few businesses reach out to local government and if they do, it is only when they have a problem they need solving, often in a crisis situation. At that point, we will often get a call starting with “Sorry to bother you, but….” Let me assure you, you are not ‘bothering” us. We are public servants, after all and it is our job. We can’t help when we are not aware and often, we are thrilled that you reached out to make us aware of a situation that we can assist with. Still, you don’t need to be in a crisis situation for us to help.
We can help promote your business or organization (most businesses are good corporate citizens and also support worthy non-profit organizations). If you are about to open a new store, for example, invite City Council for a ribbon cutting. Not only does that help promote your business on that day, but politicians tend to be well connected and will spread the word about your business and suggest to people that they also attend. We are not able to accept gifts of services or products, but are always pleased when you let us know what you offer and invite us to come for a visit to check it out and recommend to others that they do so as well. Most politicians are proficient in social media and when they attend your event, will send a positive message out. They tend to have a lot of followers so this is great free advertising for you!
There may be a situation where you are so successful, you need to expand, yet are not sure if you can do so in your own community. In Abbotsford, we will try to move mountains to help you find a way to stay. Here is a testimonial from one of our long time businesses in Abbotsford, BC:
“More than two years ago, it came to the attention of the City that Buckerfields’ lease was coming to an end. At that time, a representative from the Economic Development division contacted my office and offered to help with our search for a new location. From then until now, City staff have been very supportive and have made good suggestions to help keep Buckerfields in the community. In our view, City staff demonstrated the highest standard of progressive municipal administration.” – Kelvin McCulloch, CEO Buckerfield’s.
Local governments can be quite competitive and want you to prefer to locate in their community, so before you decide where you want to locate, speak with City Hall to see what they are willing to do to help you before you decide. Our Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce told us this story:
“Omid informed me he had the option of locating his new warehouse (Novagreen technologies) just about anywhere in the Lower Mainland and beyond…he chose Abbotsford because of the solid commitment he received from the City’s Economic Development Department which is what scored the business in Abby! He was super impressed with Wendy & Alex and I believe Omid is already a walking billboard for #bizfriendlyabby!”
Doing the “usual” isn’t good enough for the City of Abbotsford, we have a culture of excellence and innovation. We have a remarkable history of partnerships with businesses and helping those with wonderfully innovative ideas succeed! There is even a book written by the MSA Museum Society filled with these stories called “Abbotsford: From Village to City – A Commitment to Excellence and Innovation”. One of my favourite success stories is that of Neil James:
Around 1993, a man named Neil James was in the Auto Recycling industry. He was a person who cared about the economic viability of his industry, but also felt a strong desire to operate in the most environmentally responsible manner possible. He could see his industry needed improvement. He had a dream of creating “Code of Practice” that all in his industry would operate by. He went to the Federal government first, who liked his idea, but weren’t interested in helping him. Next, he went to the Provincial government and received the same reaction. Neil was nothing, if not persistent and went door to door to local governments, who one by one, said they couldn’t help – until he walked in the door of City of Abbotsford staffer, Peter Andzan’s office, where he received the response he’d been waiting for: “What a great idea! Let’s see how we can make this work!” It was so successful, that the Province of BC adopted it, then eventually the Federal Government of Canada.
That story is just one of many great Abbotsford success stories. For example, BC’s first anaerobic digester, which uses a natural fermentation process to turn agricultural manure into energy is in Abbotsford and without the city’s assistance, it likely would not have happened. Abbotsford is also home to the world’s only hockey ice rink that uses rainwater and it is because of a wonderful partnership of local businesses with a dream and a local government with an open mind and great attitude.
People with good ideas can walk in our door and rather than the “you can’t because” response, you are more likely to get the “let’s find a way to make it happen” attitude. This “can do” attitude led us to be recognized by the BC Small Business Roundtable with their “2015 Open for Business” award and by the Conference Board of Canada as the Abbotsford-Mission region being one of the “Fastest growing economies in Canada this year.”
At the end 2014, The City of Abbotsford created an Economic Development department. to support the City’s business friendly culture and council’s strategic plan, predominately the vibrant economy cornerstone.
The team in the City of Abbotsford Economic Development department (CAED) serves Abbotsford businesses and attracts new ones. By using tomorrow’s thinking today, they help businesses grow and take advantage of Abbotsford’s unique assets.
CAED is all about the supporting and growing our business community – Think of them as ambassadors for economic growth and business development.The team at City Hall are there to help and have a website www.caed.abbotsford.ca with a wealth of innovative tools and information purpose built for business supports. You can even engage with the staff via live chat!
The team assists with business expansion plans and offer resources, support and programs to help grow businesses. They promote the city’s opportunities with the purpose of attracting new investment and companies to our thriving city. They highlight the incredible talent in Abbotsford and the quality of life that turns visitors into residents. They collaborate with industry associations and economic development partners to solve regional issues.
As proud as I am of my community and local government I know that if you reach out to your own, most will be just as eager to help you achieve the success you dream of.
Patricia is currently serving her 8th term as Abbotsford City Councillor and is also Vice-Chair of the Fraser Valley Regional District. Appointments include Chair of Intergovernmental Affairs Committee and board member of BC Municipal Finance Authority. She is Chair of GroYourBiz Abbotsford. Patricia is a Fellow of Leadership for Environment and Development International, a research and training institute dedicated to fostering worldwide sustainability. Her work to promote this balance has resulted in many awards including the “Paul Harris” Rotary club Fellowship, Queen’s Diamond Jubilee award, “Abbotsford Woman of the Year” and Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce “Newsmaker of the Year” 2002. Patricia has been repeatedly named one of Abbotsford’s “Top Most Influential People” by the Abbotsford News.