2019-01-23 - Commentary Downtown Fredericton is Thriving

There has been quite a lot of interest recently – both in the media and in the community – about the changing face of Fredericton’s downtown. Downtowns are dynamic entities, the look and nature of which are always evolving. It is not uncommon to have turnover – just in 2018 alone, nearly 20 new businesses opened downtown, not to mention expansions and renovation projects on nearly every block – and new owners bringing fresh perspectives to some long term businesses! In Fredericton’s downtown, most of the recently vacated space has already been filled or will be in the very near future. Multiple office buildings are being built, which will feed the businesses surrounding them with customers. The downtown vibe – with its wide range of restaurants, pubs, shops, festivals, markets and more – is a magnet for many people wanting to work, live and/or play in a diverse and energetic setting.

Despite all the positives, despite the new businesses, despite the growth and new developments, each year, some businesses will choose to close and this year is no exception. These closures impact all of us, the business owners, the employees, the patrons, and our community as a whole – which depends on a vibrant business ecosystem to create economic growth and prosperity. Every closure has its own unique circumstances – likely a multitude of factors in most cases – some controllable, some not; some financial, some personal, some professional.

Cost increases faced by our small business community in the past three years may have been a factor for some of these businesses – and this is why the Fredericton Chamber advocates on behalf of business regarding these issues. We’ve faced increased WorkSafeNB rates, minimum wage, HST, Canada Pension Plan, income tax, federal tax changes, and a new statutory holiday amongst other financial pressures. These increases dwarf any savings from a reduction in small business tax – which only applies to profits – whereas costs like WorkSafeNB, minimum wage and CPP are paid on every hour worked by every employee, whether the business is making money or not. Any change that impacts businesses

financially should be looked at by government with a business lens before it is implemented.

Specific to downtown, the past few years have had some additional challenges. Construction and road work have picked up – which, while beneficial to our economy in the future, creates challenges for our businesses in the present. A prolonged spring flood also had an impact in 2018 as well as lingering parking concerns for some consumers. Getting through these challenges takes all of us making more of an effort to get to those businesses, and making sure that construction is done as quickly and efficiently as possible with excellent directional signage to ensure we can find the route to our favourite businesses.

An under-the-radar issue may also be the difficulties associated with succession planning for small business owners. There are many reasons for this, but the fact remains that we lose some businesses – and the associated jobs – because without an obvious person to take over such as a relative, it can be challenging to sell a business. That’s why the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce started Succession Connect, a program that seeks to match local business owners seeking to retire or otherwise sell their business with immigrant entrepreneurs hoping to purchase a turnkey New Brunswick business. The program offers the two things business people need in this situation – contacts and confidentiality.

The fact of the matter is, Fredericton continues to have a thriving and diverse downtown – made up of both new and established businesses – including excellent retail, food and beverage, and service sectors. It is sad to see a business close – it’s always a risky endeavour to work for yourself – but we have to move forward, see what we can do better to support our local enterprises and take advantage of opportunities that are created. In 2019, let’s all do better to support our friends and neighbours that run businesses – whether spending money there, sharing on social media, or good old fashioned word of mouth – nothing beats a personal endorsement. Downtowns and business people are resilient by nature, but not immune to the pressures – if we want to keep them, we have to act.

Krista Ross is CEO of the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce, a nationally accredited organization with nearly 1,000 members, is an active business organization engaged in policy development and advocacy that affects the competitiveness of our members and the Canadian business environment. The Chamber’s vision is ‘Stronger Community Through Business Prosperity’.