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By: Laura Keil

Here’s why Valemount should be happy it has giant stores that are empty in its downtown.

It’s because the people driving Valemount’s economy are making smart, rational decisions.

Here’s why I’m happy: there are more businesses today than six years ago, and a constant population.

So why these growing blights on our downtown? What else can you glean from that except the fear our town is going downhill?

I’ve noticed a lot of new and growing local businesses are choosing to opt-out of a traditional office and instead to run their business out of their home. This of course leaves thousands of excess square footage hanging idly around town.

Most of these home-based businesses are run by one person – not ideal candidates for a former grocery or clothing store. By staying at home they can write off part of their house to the business, saving some tax at the end of the year.

Oh sure, there are lots of “hobby businesses” you might say. They’re not making what you’d make working for CN, that’s for sure.

I beg you to take a second look at some of these “hobbies” and see how some of them are providing very good livings for their owners.

Having a downtown office is simply passÔ©. Especially in a town one square kilometre big. It’s simply not hard to go two streets over to get my mending or taxes done.

The problem, of course, is visibility. Instead of seeing a vibrant network of small businesses, we see all this empty square footage, which has become irrelevant to our grassroots economy.

But let’s redeem those empty spaces. Certainly there are dozens of companies you’ve never heard of that operate in this town. These companies are looking for cost-effective exposure. Some of them may be starved of equipment and training that could help expand the business.

In some cities, you’ll find “business incubators” which are more than shared office spaces. They provide the benefit to business owners of being surrounded by other start-ups and business-minded folks who can share their knowledge. This could include existing small businesses constrained by their current home-based location, if a suitable partitioned location was available.

Incubators provide office space, information on financial assistance, and management training, all of which help to decrease failure. Costs of heat, rent and equipment are spread over several tenants.

Incubators usually house a staff of business professionals (ex. Existing business or government-paid position) who can guide a small firm through the difficult times of starting a business. By housing many entrepreneurs in close proximity, tenants can assist each other with problems. This “support” group improves the firm’s chances for survival – not to mention helps fill a large space in a commercial district.

Why is supporting these businesses important? Locally-owned businesses generally have a bigger multiplier effect on their communities (more cash goes back into the local economy). Small/medium businesses with fewer than 50 employees provide employment for more than a third of Canadians, and that number grows each year.

So instead of bemoaning who is going to take over the empty Fields building this month, let’s get together and think of a way we could reclaim those buildings for existing businesses instead of searching the horizon for a big company to save the day.

We’ve got the businesses – now we need the appropriate space.

It angers me to hear how this town is “dying” based on a superficial look of what is really the chrysalis of a new economy, driven by the best kind of energy – local people.