VOICES: Supporting the Port Alberni business community

Elliott Drew

Elliott Drew, City of Port Alberni
Small Business Specialist

“One of the best parts of my job is that I’ve had to become a jack of all trades – from resource management and marketing to web and business continuity help. Some days I’m just there for businesses to offload a bit of the stress they’re facing. This can end up being a two-hour conversation ending with a piece of advice and a follow-up a few weeks later. I let them know we are here to support.

The job I was hired to do changed the moment I stepped in the door. We had to pivot when the Circuit Breaker Business Relief grant started in late April, then again with the re-opening plan in July, when we implemented our shop local program. Now, as most tourists have gone home, we are again pivoting as business has slowed but many are facing the huge challenge of staff shortages.

When times are difficult, you need to change your approach. That is what we’ve tried to do. We have never been in a labour crunch like this before in Port Alberni, so part of my work has been to help small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) make their offers more attractive. What extra perks can they offer staff – benefits, staff meals, holidays…

So far, we’ve accessed an additional $417,500 in grants for our business community, but there will be more funds coming in. So much of my work is about people-to-people contact, working directly with businesses to help them – whether that’s convincing them to get an email set-up, helping them develop a website or even just taking photos.

The Better Buy Port Alberni shop local program was created by the Chamber in the spring of 2020 as a response to the pandemic, and has proven to be a good transition after government support. It’s been a quick and easy way to introduce businesses to the online world and though we’ve had some challenges convincing some businesses of the benefits to transition online, we have had a 30% increase with 50 businesses now online.

Today we’re in a very different place than we thought we’d be. There’s still so much uncertainty. People are more receptive now to talk about elements in our Business Continuity Workbook. This resource, developed by Community Futures for SMEs, is like a survival guide for businesses. So many managers are burned out and times are tough, but this workbook helps plant the seed for getting a disaster or emergency mitigation strategy in place.

This job has been really rewarding, and there’s been strong community effort the whole way through. We’ve seen a lot of pandemic heroes here in our community and I’ve gained so much joy from working with them.”


Elliot started as Small Business Support Specialist for the City of Port Alberni in mid-April 2021. He works with the Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce, Community Futures Alberni Clayoquot and other Recovery Taskforce members to provide direct, one-on-one outreach and support to every business, social enterprise and non-profit in the Port Alberni area.

We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Province of British Columbia through the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development.