Surrey mayor believes recent violence is hurting business
RCMP arrived and found a male on the road suffering from a critical stab wound to the neck, at 108th Avenue and 135A Street on Wednesday, September 14, 2016. (Shane MacKichan/PNG)
Surrey’s mayor says the recent gun and gang violence in the city is bad for business.
“In my opinion, any time there are events that affect your reputation as a city, it also then flows into how do people feel about investing in that city, how do people feel about working in that city,” Linda Hepner said Wednesday. “Without question, it has a negative effect. It affects the investment climate.”
Hepner made similar comments on Tuesday night at an event hosted by the Surrey Board of Trade and the South Asian Business Association, and attended by members of the business community.
Hepner said businesses look at reputation, safety for employees and their families, and tax rates when they decide on where to locate. If there is a perception that a community is not safe, business owners may go elsewhere.
“Surrey is a very safe place to set up business, and some of the initiatives we have under way right now are simply going to add to that,” she said.
Hepner said her plans include starting a Bar Watch program in Surrey to make gangsters feel “uncomfortable,” initiating a review of B.C.’s Crown approval process in an effort to bring the province’s threshold for charges in line with others, and the creation of a Mayor’s Task Force.
Anita Huberman, CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade, agreed with Hepner’s assessment.
“The economic and social development of any community relies upon our ability to have a reputation as a safe, viable region and city in which to locate and do business in,” she said. “When there is this ... gang violence that’s taking place within our region, it doesn’t enhance business investment.”
Huberman stressed that the crime is a regional, provincial and national problem, and said the local business community has become involved by lobbying higher levels of government for change and supporting efforts within Surrey.
“We’ve really tried to make crime a business issue, an economic issue, because it usually isn’t seen that way,” she said.
Paul Orazietti, executive director of the Cloverdale Business Improvement Association, said the recent incidents of shots fired in the Clayton neighbourhood, which is part of Cloverdale, “put a shiver through residents’ minds” and people are sensitive about the subject.
However, he hasn’t heard of any businesses that have decided to leave or not set up shop in Cloverdale because of it.
“We’ve not really experienced anything of a serious nature that’s dissuaded investment, but people are very much concerned about the more serious incidents — and you can’t blame them,” he said.
Orazietti commended Hepner on her efforts to deal with the crime and gun violence, and said she has the association’s support.
“It’s very much a complicated problem,” he said.
Downtown Surrey Business Improvement Association CEO Elizabeth Model finds that most businesses and investors she talks to take the long view.
“I think wherever the violence breaks out (in the region) there always is a sense of uneasiness with everybody — citizens, businesses and whatnot — so there’s that knee-jerk reaction initially. But when you look at the long term, you recognize that everybody is collaborating, they’re working together,” she said.
What concerns her more are the retail thefts, break-ins, homelessness and open drug use that hurt businesses in her neighbourhood.
For instance, a Japanese restaurant that was in Whalley for more than 20 years closed its doors last month because business had dropped off. The owners attributed the decline to the crime, visible homelessness and drug use in the area.
Model said that in the past six months, six or seven businesses on King George Boulevard near 135A Street have shut down for similar reasons.
“They just cannot operate under these current conditions,” she said.