A shortage in skilled labour continues to be the greatest challenge facing local businesses, according to a new business climate survey.
MNP partner Carla Milne and Nate Andrews, president of the Brandon Chamber of Commerce, presented the findings of the survey conducted by PRA Inc. at the chamber luncheon on Thursday.
Thirty-six per cent of respondents said a shortage in labour is the greatest challenge, followed by competition and rising operation costs, both coming in at 9.5 per cent.
"Some of this definitely would have to do with the oil activity that’s going on, but it’s not all of it," Milne said. "We had these issues five and 10 years ago … It’s as much the whole economy and the baby boomers retiring as it is about oil."
The survey sample includes 200 chief executive officers, presidents, business owners and designated senior corporate officers in Brandon and the surrounding area. Telephone interviews were conducted between Oct. 15 and Nov. 28.
Respondents said skilled labour (47.7 per cent), general labour (22.4) and sales agents (20.6) were the top three specific positions they have had difficulty filling.
Mayor Shari Decter Hirst said the city is working with Assiniboine Community College and Brandon University to address this problem.
"We can’t attract business to the community unless we’ve got an adequate labour force," she said. " We need the partnership between the college, the university and the city to develop and anticipate what those labour force needs are."
Ninety-seven per cent of Brandon business leaders surveyed said they expect their company to be performing either the same or better in 2013.
Sixty-four per cent said they expect to do better financially, while 33 per cent expected to do the same as last year.
"This is really a good news story," Milne said.
When asked if they believe Brandon is as attractive a place to live and work as it was five years ago, 89 per cent of the respondents answered "yes." Ten per cent said "no," while one per cent were unsure.
"We definitely celebrate that 89 per cent are happy, and we need to find out how not to let the 10 per cent grow larger," Milne said. "So this can and may be a signal that if we make some changes now, that we can help keep Brandon as attractive to live and work."
Business leaders said bringing air service to Brandon would have a "very significant" impact on the city’s business climate.
Thirty-five per cent of respondents said municipal government was doing a fair job in terms of managing taxpayers’ money, 34 per cent said it was poor, 27 per cent said they did a good job, while only 1.5 per cent said they did an excellent job.
When asked what the city’s next construction priority should be, business leaders overwhelmingly responded with infrastructure (42 per cent).
Housing/ affordable housing came in second at 10.5 per cent, followed by a casino (eight per cent) and Keystone Centre upgrades (5.5 per cent).
"We still have issues with 18th (Street) going from two to three to four, back to two to three lanes," Andrews said. "If we can start to get that sorted out, our main artery, I think it’s going to take our community a long ways."
Decter Hirst said the Daly Overpass is a provincial responsibility and Premier Greg Selinger is "very aware of how important it is" for the city.
Decter Hirst noted that in the past two years, the city has added $1 million into the infrastructure budget.
"This is strictly on the road repair, drainage and sidewalks … the ongoing maintenance of our existing structure," Decter Hirst said. "For people to feel confident that infrastructure is a priority, what is the expectation for how much more additional resources we need to allocate and target towards these initiatives? Because again, infrastructure is all about money."
Eighty-one per cent of respondents said they favour the government investing more money in the Keystone Centre.
"I think it’s obvious for Brandon what the Keystone Centre is," Andrews said. "This thing is an economic engine for our community. There’s so many tremendous events that it brings and fills up our hotels and lets people shop and dine in our restaurants."