Nathan Cullen talked with Houston business owners about the Northwest economy and what the government can do to encourage entrepreneurship in the community.
The lunch in Houston with Cullen and local Chamber of Commerce on Aug. 27, was for Cullen to hear local concerns and answer questions.
The discussion centered around challenges and solutions for Northwest and Houston entrepreneurship and investment.
Cullen suggested that one the barriers is the mentality that young people often graduate high school with, going into the mills thinking it’s what their dad did, and what they’ll do and what their kids will do.
Salvation Army supervisor Rick Apperson agreed.
There’s a lack of motivation, said Apperson, we need more incentives for young people to want to start up their own businesses.
Others suggested that there is more behind it than that.
Entrepreneurship is not seen as an option, said Tony Mondia, the Business and Loans Analyst from Nadina Community Futures.
“We used to do self employment as a career option at the carreer days in the highschool,” added Jerry Botti, Community Futures manager, but it dwindled away because of lack of interest.
So there are cultural things that government can’t really play a role in, said Cullen, but what can the government do?
John Sullivan from Sullivan Motor Products said that the government can give tax write offs for apprenticeships.
Botti agreed, saying that the government could provide specific low interest loans to individuals or companies that can’t afford to have apprenticeships.
He added that they’ve seen dozens of people looking for jobs or apprenticeships who just simply don’t have the money to do it.
But Mondia disagrees.
“There’s money out there. If you want it, you can get it,” he said, adding that the bigger need is education and support about how to launch a business.
“It’s a maze of information that you have to go through — like how to do a lease or how to do a loan,” said Mondia.
“If you don’t get any of that training in highschool and you don’t know any of that, it is overwhelming. It’s completely overwhelming.”
Tom Euverman, owner of Countrywide Printing and Stationary Ltd., suggested a different barrier, saying that what is needed is marketing about the potential of the valley.
“From an industrial point of view, there’s more jobs here than Hazelton and Smithers and Burns Lake combined,” he said, “hardly anybody knows that.”
The problem is the quality of marketing, said Botti, adding that past attempts to advertise Houston as the industrial capital of the Bulkley Valley failed because of that.
“There doesn’t see to be any centralized organization for promoting those kinds of things, to coordinate those activities and getting that message out,” he said.
Cullen said that what needs to happen is a regional conversation between Northwest communities.
“We as a region have rarely thought about us as a region,” said Cullen, adding that if the region did work together, there would be opportunity to advertise to investors and bigger markets.
“We don’t have a regional conversation here because for many years towns like Houston or Smithers or Burns could survive independently — you didn’t need your neighbors because there was more than enough jobs,” said Cullen.
But when crisis hits people start talking and planning together and pitching the government and pitching industry more broadly, said Cullen.
We’ve been in economic crisis for the last decade, he said, and as a region we need to get more coordinated.