Optimism is widespread about issues such as housing affordability and tax increases remain, according to a membership survey carried out by the B.C. Chamber of Commerce.
“We want to know what’s keeping CEOs and business owners up at night,” said Val Litwin, president and CEO of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce.
“This survey helps us identify what issues are top of mind for businesses in the province, and provides clarity on the choke points our members are facing.”
The 2017-18 Collective Perspective survey was conducted by Abacus Data as early 900 businesses of all sizes, representing all sectors of the economy, and from all regions of the province, participated with responses.
“This is an essential snapshot of the sentiments of business in the province,” said Bruce Anderson, of Abacus Data. “People are pretty happy with the way their businesses are performing today. Only eight per cent say their business is in poor shape, 33 per cent say acceptable, 61 per cent say good or very good, so we are looking at a business community that is pleased with where they stand.”
Among the highlights extracted from the survey:
• While business optimism and the five-year outlook remain high overall— and relatively unchanged year-over-year—there is a slight weakening in some business’s goals to “grow very significantly” (down from 40 per cent to 36 per cent in 2017). In a year of political uncertainty and change in the province, respondents indicated they are less likely to consider the provincial government to be “generally supportive of business”, with an 18-point drop since 2016.
“This is to be expected in a year of transition,” said Litwin. “Heading into 2018, we will see if this anxiety is founded.”
By contrast, perceptions about the federal government are down as well, but the change has been less severe at six points, while views of local government’s orientation towards business have improved.
• While the health of the economy—at a national, provincial, and local levels—remains the most important factor in helping growth prospects for B.C. businesses, the cost of housing and taxes are the greatest perceived threats to business growth. Housing affordability remains a major concern for businesses in both being able to attract younger people, and new business, to B.C.
•The 2017-18 survey showed businesses in B.C. rate federal tax changes floated by the federal government in 2017 likely increased the number of respondents believing federal taxes are actively hurting their business indicate with a year-over-year increase from 12 to 18 per cent. At the provincial level, most businesses want their government to focus on taxes with one in three indicating a cap on the differential between residential and business property taxes is the preferred solution, and one in four saying a made-in-BC value-added tax (VAT) is the preferred solution.
• Respondents identified access to— and the cost of—labour as one of the top five issues hurting business growth. This is felt acutely in the food, hospitality, and tourism industries. Three in five businesses want to see an easily understood and accessible portal to the tax credits and grants currently available to employers, as well a more gradual increase to minimum wage as a solution for ‘access to’ and ‘cost of’ labour). On the growth side, there was a material year-over-year increase in the number of businesses saying free trade with China is “good for BC” (a 10-point lift) and trade with China is “good for my business” (a 12-point lift).