OPINION: Port Alice needs a paradigm shift

“If we want work in Port Alice, we need to get to work”

Lately, Port Alice seems to have been suffering from, “a series of unfortunate events”— precipitated by the pulp mill heading into receivership—that is threatening to shut down our local economy. Our country is not in recession. Unemployment is at an all time low. BC is doing well overall. So what’s the problem? The problem, I think, is a “doom and gloom” mindset left over from the first mill bankruptcy.

Scotiabank has claimed that they are closing in Port Alice because of their bottom line, even though they stuck it out for the mill for a total of six years when it was in curtailment and in between owners. They announced their exodus almost immediately after Neucel sent its remaining workers home without pay and just couldn’t wait around a bit to see what will happen next. They are doing this in spite of the fact that Port Alice is in the middle of a phenomenal housing sales boom. The pull-out ends up being a beacon to possible investors, saying “don’t come here.”

With no bank in town, what will happen is what everybody has already been saying will happen. Retirees with pensions will be discouraged from moving here and it will be very difficult to start a small business in Port Alice.

With Island Health’s attempt to eliminate emergency care in Port Alice, it would’ve made it difficult to call this a viable “retirement community.” If the village had not put up the valiant fight that they did, the lack of emergency equipment could have slowed down and possibly even reversed Port Alice’s vibrant housing market. The fact that this battle happened at all leaves a lingering uncertainty in the air.

With the logging strike happening right before a summer heat shut down in a market that is on life support, it runs the risk of destroying the North Island logging industry completely!

How unlucky can we get? I think part of the problem is the fact that Port Alice has been a one-horse-town for too long. Minds are set along a certain groove. It seems that, without a mill, the automatic assumption is that Port Alice will become a ghost town.

But times have changed. With this town filling up with a diverse group of people from all over, it is a sign that Port Alice has been “discovered.”

In spite of all the above-mentioned setbacks, we Port Alice residents need to push ahead with developing our own economy ourselves. It can be as easy as renting commercial space from Bill Fader for about $800 a month to start a coffee shop, a restaurant or a souvenir shop. To rent a space in a big city mall can cost tens of thousands of dollars…for one month! It would give jobs to people who so badly need them and create cash flow for new investment. Once we have a “gathering place,” it can help generate dialogue and new ideas for business. It may even bring us a bank!

The possibilities for business in this town are numerous.

We have some of the best kayaking in the world, but no kayak rental!

A kayak rental business can fortify its possibility of success by diversifying into bike, scooter, ATV, paddle boat, canoe and/or fishing rod rental.

A simple zip line—with amazing views—could be an effective draw for tourists, even to people from surrounding communities.

For someone who likes hiking but doesn’t have a lot of capital to invest, they can provide walking tours for the meagre investment of advertising and a good set of hiking boots.

Above all, we need a restaurant, coffee shop and/or a retail store to show investors that there are actually people here! We can’t accomplish that by hiding in our houses! We also need to show the world that we are resilient, have initiative and that we are willing to work.

Because of my experience as a cleaner, I’m a witness to a thriving B&B economy that goes largely unnoticed because we don’t provide these visitors with a place to have their breakfasts, lunches and dinners.

We need to get busy and stay positive. What we “think” becomes reality. Paradigms are very powerful! If we want work in Port Alice, we need to get to work. Once we have a few small “visible” businesses going, it would send an encouraging sign to investors that this is a place with potential.

Debra Lynn is a freelance writer for the North Island Gazette, artist and educator who lives in Port Alice.

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