Adrian Bell, the newly appointed president of the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce, addressed how he plans to help businesses recover post-pandemic.

“Businesses are struggling to get back up to full speed,” he said. “One of the main challenges is that they need more workers, and to get those workers our city needs more housing.”

He acknowledged that there are housing units currently under construction but the lack of land available for future growth is a big problem.

“I think we need to work with the territorial government and the city to try to ensure that there’s a long-term plan in place for bringing land to market.”

Included in workforce-related issues are the immigration programs, which he believes could be better.

“We have the ability to bring in far more people each year than we do.

“Every year, we fall short of our federally allotted quota, and meanwhile, our neighbors in Whitehorse are meeting their quota and lobbying for its increase.

“We’re far behind our neighbors in having the right programs in place to streamline immigration.”

Bell said that the hotel levy, which is an initiative that fell by the wayside during the pandemic, would bring more people to the city and promote it as more than a tourist destination, but also a place to work and live.

“The hotel levy is the mechanism for doing this,” he said. “We just need to work with the city to get it going.”

Bell says the labour shortage boils down to immigration and housing.

“I think we might have to talk to the city about taking another look at flexible worker accommodations.

“Things like the Giant Mine Remediation Project or big construction projects, they are seasonal and bring in surges of workers that take up vacant units across town.”

He said that these projects have a massive impact on vacancy rates and on people who want to stay in Yellowknife long-term.

One solution that other cities have utilized is to allow for short to medium-term flexible worker accommodations to avoid big projects sucking up all of the vacant apartment units in town, he said.

Bell also mentioned that the Yk Chamber has been working to help small businesses to understand what programs are available and how to access them.

Closure of mines

Bell says that they need more information to plan effectively for the eventual closure of the Diavik Diamond Mine, planned for 2025.

He recalls having seen an article a year and a half ago, stating that the number of Diavik employees living in Yellowknife was 350.

“I know already from my own business (Century 21: Prospect Realty) that some of those workers are already moving south and starting to work remotely.”

“How many people will be leaving when the mine closes? We really need to know what things are going to look like in 2025.

He has similar concerns with the Ekati Mine.

“They’ll be scaling back very soon and even potentially closing down as I understand it, if their experiments with underwater mining don’t work out.

“That could be happening right around the same time as Diavik.

“The Chamber asked them last year, how many of their employees live in Yellowknife, and we didn’t really get an answer.

“We need to follow up on that.”

Three things Bell hopes to change as president

Bell says the Yk Chamber has been seeing success in their advocacy work and hopes to improve it.

“My hope would be to continue that good work with some updated advocacy priorities, probably now that the pandemic is somewhat in the rear view mirror,” he said. “That was a real focus, understandably, for a long time.

“I would also like to increase opportunities for our members to network. That’s a big priority of mine.

“The third thing would be to take a close look at our member benefits program and to see what we can do to improve our group discounts that we provide to our members.”

Bell said that the cost of doing business keeps increasing, and that he wants to help work toward a solution.

“I’d like to see what we can do to apply our leverage as a group of business owners to try to negotiate better rates for various services.”

Sandra MacKenzie was the previous president of the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce after Rob Warburton stepped down to run for council last year in August.

Jonathan Gardiner

After a tough break looking for employment in Alberta, I moved to Yellowknife in 2017 and became a multimedia journalist in 2022. I enjoy the networking side of my job, and I also aspire to write my...

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