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Two-thirds of Yellowknife businesses have ‘chronic’ vacancies

Yellowknife's downtown on a May morning in 2018
Yellowknife's downtown on a May morning in 2018. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio

A survey by the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce suggests many of the city’s companies remain in a long-term struggle to find and keep staff.

Seventy percent of businesses who responded are actively hiring, while nearly two-thirds of respondents said their vacancies persist for long enough to be considered “chronic,” the chamber said in a news release on Wednesday.

The results highlight the struggle of small businesses in the NWT to keep positions filled in the face of higher-paying work at the territorial government or diamond mines, or the lower cost of living farther south.

Sixty-eight separate businesses completed the survey, out of an overall membership of 394, the chamber said.



On average, businesses in the city reported having three vacant positions at the time of the survey.

Two-thirds of those responding said their businesses employed fewer than 10 staff, implying a significant number of Yellowknife companies are unable to fill a third or more of their positions.

In general, the chamber said, “Yellowknife businesses are performing well, but the high cost of living and doing business, the challenge of attracting and retaining skilled employees, and access to affordable business training are important challenges that impact local businesses and limit growth opportunities.”

Around three-quarters of businesses said their financial performance was either good or strong, though four rated their own performance “poor.”



“It’s promising to hear that many of our members feel their businesses are performing well,” said Kyle Thomas, the chamber’s president, in a news release.

“But we know that’s not the case for everyone, and there’s a lot of work to be done.”

‘So close to being done’

Stacie Smith’s Flowers North is both a success story of 2019 and an example of a business struggling to fill vacancies.

In the fall of 2018, Smith – now a city councillor – spoke to Cabin Radio through tears, saying: “Unless I magically win the lottery, I don’t see the shop lasting beyond Christmas.”

At the time, Smith said the threat of government workers striking was combining with increased competition to drive her out of business.

However, in an interview earlier this week, Smith said a local accountancy firm – EPR Yellowknife – had stepped in and helped her to create a business plan, then win a grant from federal business development bank BDC.

“It was the support of another business owner that really helped me get to where I am at this point,” she said, urging other small business owners: “Don’t give up on it. I was so close to just throwing in the books and being done with it.”

Now, Smith is reinventing her flower business as a gift shop for tourists to the NWT – but finding it difficult to recruit the staff to make her vision come alive.



“I want to gear our plan toward tourism because that’s our next big thing … really amping up on the gifts, and I want to make local artists part of my focal point,” she said.

“I want it to be an experience when you come in. That’s why we’re going through some renovations. I want to be more than a flower shop, so that people come in, see the murals, see the local merchandise, and can take courses.

“I’m still seeking staff,” she added, “so if anybody out there is wanting a job in floristry, I’m seeking staff to better equip me for what I have planned for for my shop.”