Economic recovery in Kamloops from the COVID-19 pandemic won’t be easy. It will be slow and depend fully on treatment of COVID-19 or a vaccine.
The biggest challenge, in fact, is not knowing how long it will take, according to the city’s mayor, who pointed to a second wave.
However, the city and its community partners have come up with a series of recommendations to help facilitate a local economic rebound, adapting to the new normal and also planning for the future.
Some examples include adding cycling infrastructure as more bikes roll out of stores and creating a digital shopping mall for local businesses to shift online.
On Friday (Sept. 11), the city released a report on local impacts and recommendations of the COVID-19 pandemic, the culmination of three months’ worth of meetings from a mayor-selected task force, consisting of people across myriad sectors within the community.
The Mayor’s Task Force on Economic Recovery and Renewal Report will be discussed at council’s regular meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 15.
The report noted a 12.4 per cent unemployment rate in Kamloops in June and economic hits to sectors including travel, tourism, accommodations, arts, sports, recreation, small retail stores and food services.
Mayor Ken Christian said businesses that relied on international travel have been hit hard and the report noted the tourism sector will likely operate at below capacity until a return to normal, essentially reliant on a vaccine.
“If you’re reliant to any extent on the tourist dollar, then you are going to suffer more than others,” Christian said. “I think that’s a reality I see. The other impact is on Thompson Rivers University and that, in turn, ripples through our community.”
The university is anticipating a $9-million deficit this fiscal year, has sent out about 80 layoff notices and has seen its lucrative international student enrolment numbers plunge.
Meanwhile, the report noted some positives.
The city’s large employers — TRU, Interior Health, the Kamloops-Thompson school district and the BC Lottery Corporation — kept running despite the pandemic. Construction activity and the mining sector show signs of optimism. COVID-19 case counts in Kamloops have also been low.
“The brightest aspect of Kamloops is that we are doing very well on the health front,” the report notes. “While promoting tourism, we can emphasize that Kamloops is a safe destination. However, it will take time to get back international travellers and, thus, the tourism sector in Kamloops may have to operate below capacity until normalcy returns.”
Promotion of the city as a safe place to work and play is among a series of recommendations outlined in the report. Other broad themes include re-envisioning public open spaces, new sustainable and accessible activities and infrastructure, support and infrastructure for businesses and fostering community.
KTW spoke to Christian about some specific ideas in the report:
• Adding bike routes in parks, such as McArthur Island.
Christian said more people are accessing local recreational opportunities amid the pandemic.
“One we saw was cycling absolutely took off,” he said. “You can’t buy a bike, you can’t get your bike fixed in this town. To the extent that Kamloops needs to make itself a destination for biking, it is important to do that.”
The report also suggests considering street markets and consider closing Victoria Street and/or other commercial areas to vehicular traffic.
• Reducing service fees, including at Kamloops Airport.
Christian said the recommendation signals to airlines when travel resumes that it is an important local economic driver.
“We want to make sure we give the airlines every opportunity to be profitable,” he said, noting a potential reduction.
Christian said that as the airport operates at lower than 20 per cent of 2019 passenger numbers, it trickles into the community with impacts to Sun Peaks, heli-skiing, hotel stays and others.
“It’s all connected,” he said.
• Creating opportunities for larger spaces during colder months.
“People aren’t going to be travelling. The snowbirds are going to be stay-at-home birds,” Christian said, noting with borders closed, people will be here and the city needs to plan for that.
• Develop online hubs to give local small businesses the opportunity to collectively sell online without developing their own online infrastructure.
“It’s kind of like an electronic shopping mall,” Christian said. “It was just an idea, but those businesses that have pivoted to an online presence have been more successful than those that just relied on their walk-in traffic. We have to recognize it’s a trend and we have to try to facilitate that.”
• Making city services more efficient for businesses and the community by increasing online service options, essentially a more digitized city hall. Christian said the city was forced to go digital amid the pandemic and the recommendation could look at further efficiencies.
• Fast-tracking infrastructure funding to open up of lands in the southwest sector for market growth in the transportation and warehousing industries.
Christian said the task force spoke about a shortage of light industrial space in Kamloops and taking advantage of the city’s geography. He said the city needs to be shovel-ready for companies looking for land.
The recommendations are for not only the city, but for the community at large. Christian said some recommendations will be pursued by partners, such as Tourism Kamloops and Venture Kamloops.
When ideas are developed further, city staff will bring a report to council with specific recommendations. Some ideas are already being implemented. price tags are attached.
Christian said he is grateful for those who participated in the task force during the summer months, including community volunteers and city councillors.
“They were really on task and really dug in,” Christian said.
Read the full 18-page report here: