'Come work for me somebody': Chilliwack businesses struggle to find labour

Chilliwack is one of the last bastions of housing affordability in the Lower Mainland and recent data shows that more people are buying homes in the area, which is putting a strain on local businesses.

The lure of affordable housing is putting pressure on local businesses to meet the growing population

Some Chilliwack businesses say they're struggling to find employees to meet a growing demand for their services. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

Chilliwack is one of the last places of affordable housing in the Lower Mainland and recent statistics from the Chilliwack and District Real Estate Board show that more people are buying homes in the area. 

But the growing population is putting a strain on local businesses, who say they can't find enough staff to meet demand.

"[I] just can't find people. I can use at least two right now, two more people," said Ken Popove, owner of Ken's Tire & Wheels and a city councillor in Chilliwack. 

"I talk to a few of my other tire guys and ask if they got any extra guys and I get a big laugh, they say 'I've been looking for a couple of guys' forever,'" said Popove. 

Ken Popove, owner of Ken's Tire & Wheel said he's about to spring into the busiest time of the year but is short-staffed. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

According to WorkBC, the unemployment rate in the city is five per cent. That often qualifies as full employment, meaning that everyone who is able and willing to work, is.

But maybe just not in Chilliwack.

"It's still very much a bedroom community," said Christian Saint Cyr, a community outreach coordinator for the WorkBC centre in Chilliwack. 

"There are people who will live in Chilliwack and drive to Abbotsford, Surrey or even Vancouver in cases and maintain their home in Chilliwack."

Wages are also slightly higher the closer you get to Vancouver, which is why Bobbi Kozak, who lives and works in Chilliwack, said many of her friends decide to commute.

"I would say it's mostly wage ... some people don't mind the drive, they don't mind paying the extra gas. They just want to see that bigger paycheque," said Kozak. 

The Chilliwack Economic Partners Corporation, which looks after the well-being of local businesses, said the city is growing into much more than just an agricultural community that offers food processing jobs.

"There are opportunities here," said Brian Coombes, president of the Chilliwack Economic Partners Corporation. 

The organization is trying to change the perception of what Chilliwack has to offer.

"To show that affordability of housing and some of the other lifestyle and quality of life issues outweigh, perhaps, some of the expectations that they might feel they would get a better opportunity in Metro Vancouver," said Coombes.

Coombes said they're focusing on marketing, while working with educational institutes to ensure there is enough skilled labour.

But for now, it's a case of a small community in transition when it comes to finding workers necessary to do the job.

"We want people to come here and work here and spend their money here. Come work for me somebody," said Popove.