Located between the Vancouver and Whistler markets, Squamish has become the ideal spot for many entrepreneurs to launch their new businesses. Their creative ideas often take advantage of the district’s ample outdoor activities and unique natural setting.
“We are seeing an influx of highly educated, creative young professionals in industries such as recreational technology, photography, writing, software development, design, culinary, clean energy and tourism,” said Gary Buxton, Squamish’s general manager of development services and public works.
He said the work-life balance Squamish provides is a major attraction for many business owners.
So far this year, 66 new resident business licences have been issued. In 2015, Squamish issued 32 per cent more licences than the year before, indicating a robust business climate. Many new businesses are in line with the demographic trends of Squamish’s population – active, health-conscious people who are looking for products to fit into their lifestyle.
Megan Lussier, a business analyst with Community Futures Howe Sound, said she is seeing an increase of health-related companies, such as juice and smoothie bars. Influenced by the popularity of farmers’ markets, she added, many residents are interested in buying locally produced products – and they don’t mind paying a bit more for it. Instead of beads and necklaces, which used to be popular several years ago, more Squamish entrepreneurs are selling natural, organic products that are made or grown in small batches, such as soap, honey and vegetables.
“It’s easier to buy local products now, and people in Squamish like that,” said Lussier. “They’re looking for quality and to support the community.”
She predicts this trend will stick around for a while, which will provide new opportunities for entrepreneurs to make their mark in Squamish.
Location, location, location
For many entrepreneurs, the location of their store in Squamish is critical to its success. Options include locations downtown, at the Squamish Business Park or areas on the outskirts of town.
Bianca Peters, executive director of the Downtown Squamish Business Improvement Association (DSBIA), said now is a good time to open a business because of Squamish’s growing population, particularly with the influx of young families.
“We want people to set up shop downtown – it’s the heart and hub – but having a business open anywhere in Squamish is great,” said Peters.
Foot traffic is a major perk of opening a business downtown, as well as its central location and concentration of stores in one area.
The Squamish Business Toolkit on the DSBIA website, www.downtownsquamish.com, provides links and information for people wanting to open a new business anywhere in the district.
Another option is the Squamish Business Park, which is off Highway 99 and already houses big-box stores such as Walmart, Home Depot and Rona, as well as ski, snowboard and bike stores.
Due to demand, another business hub, the Sea to Sky Business Park, is being planned adjacent to the Squamish Business Park. The site would provide 20 acres of commercial and industrial space, ranging from 1,453 to 30,000 square feet.
“We’re seeing a clustering effect in the business park, and that’s a good thing. It gives businesses a strategic reason to be in Squamish,” said Darren McCartney, a commercial real estate agent in Squamish.
He has seen the number of available commercial spots decrease significantly in the past six to nine months.
“There isn’t a lot of inventory because this small town is going into another growth phase,” he said. “We’ve had a ton of external interest, and the majority of people who are looking can’t find a spot easily.”
Office space, he said, is cheaper than in Vancouver, and retail units are often more affordable, but not always. The rising prices are due to more people moving to Squamish from other areas of the Lower Mainland, not local residents starting new businesses, he added.
Larger spaces are particularly difficult to find in Squamish, leaving some business owners out of luck, said McCartney, adding he looks forward to Squamish increasing its industrial inventory.
Because of the lack of varying types of commercial real estate, the District of Squamish is trying to attract new commercial and mixed-use developments to the community, particularly in the downtown core. Investment incentives, which apply to new and renovated space, include property tax exemptions for the initial years.
As Squamish’s population increases – it has one of the fastest growth rates in B.C., at 15 per cent over five years – jobs can be hard to find. Not wanting to commute, more people are seeing the benefits of running a home-based business rather than opening a traditional office in commercial space.
Conny Millard, a business coach from The Business Sanctuary in Squamish, says this trend is increasing because entrepreneurs are also seeking the perfect work-life balance.
“They are running successful businesses while also maintaining time with their families and to do what they love outside of work,” she said.
Certain types of businesses, such as those that rely on the internet to attract customers rather than foot traffic, can benefit from the lower overheard of being home-based.
“Squamish is a great place to start a successful business, and I see more and more people doing so,” said Millard. “They are thinking outside the box to come up with creative ways to incorporate their businesses into Squamish.”