Employers battle transport and taxes

Annual Tour of Industry continues to highlight issues

Greg Ramsay

Issues of affordable housing, transportation and taxation continue to plague industry on the Saanich Peninsula and one of the area’s biggest employers says it’s the key to keeping good people at work in the community.

Greg Ramsay, president of Ramsay Machine Works, gave the keynote address during the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce’s 2013 Tour of Industry. After speaking on the company’s efforts in building a giant coal conveyor for Neptune Terminals in Vancouver, Ramsay addressed questions from the crowd at the Mary Winspear Centre.

“What are the main challenges to your doing business on the Saanich Peninsula?” asked Wendy Everson, a Sidney lawyer and chairperson of the annual Tour.

“One challenge,” Ramsay replied,” is keeping our employees. Affordable housing is needed here and without it, it has been tough to keep people involved.”

Seventy-five per cent of his company’s employees, he continued, live in the Western Communities — meaning many face issues of commuting to the Peninsula. Retaining those people over the long term remains difficult, he noted, as they will often look for work closer to home.

That leads to issues of public transportation — with limited bus service throughout the day to the West Sidney industrial area. Ramsay said there are an estimated 2,000 people working in that area and yet B.C. Transit doesn’t provide enough service for workers to be able to get to their shifts at reasonable hours.

Next on his list of challenges was taxes.

“Every time they go up, they have a big impact,” he said, outlining how precise the company must be on bidding for new projects.

Local business and industry have been communicating with local municipalities on taxation matters.

The key to growth, Ramsay added, is an increased pool of skilled labour — limited by some of the factors he talked about.

Everson said she heard first-hand the challenges faced by some employees at Thrifty Foods distribution centre in North Saanich. As the Tour visited the site, Everson said some workers explained how transit services get them into West Sidney — but hours before their shift is to start.

“It’s the employees who are being very direct about transportation needs,” said Everson. “These were 20-year-olds saying they need public transportation, but existing services don’t match up to their shifts.”

What’s needed to help fill this gap, she continued, is a mid-morning bus to and from the area.

The issues expressed by the employees and by Ramsay in his speech, Everson noted, are very similar to the concerns raised by local industry during last year’s Tour. Like last year, this year’s Tour was well-attended by local and provincial politicians and administrators. Everson hopes they were listening.

“They certainly hear about these issues each and every time they’re on the Tour,” she said. “This year, it was once again loud and clear — we had a full bus for a reason. People know it brings them some value.”

Everson noted that during each Tour, she hears from a lot of people — including local community leaders — that they were unaware just what goes on behind the doors of some of the region’s industrial businesses. She added this is one way the local chamber of commerce is bringing these decision-makers in touch with business and their needs.

“There are a number of challenges that are consistently identified each year by our participants” said Chris Fudge, Executive Director of the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce in a media release. “If we can start addressing these key issues, then we can take a significant step towards securing the economic vitality of this region for the future.”

Everson said the chamber plans to host its fifth Tour of Industry next year. People will have to sign up, she said, if they want to know what interesting businesses are on the tour list in 2014.