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Okanagan politicians and bureaucrats will take pulse of business community

Don't be surprised to see packs of official looking men and women  streaming in and out of area businesses Thursday morning, donning their workday best with an out-of-place pair of sneakers.

They're on an official Economic Development Commission sanctioned mission and it requires comfortable shoes.

By day's end Central Okanagan mayors, city councillors, municipal staff and a smattering of representatives from business improvement areas between Lake Country and Peachland will have canvassed 300 area businesses on a pulse-taking mission, dubbed Business Walks.

"We'll be walking into businesses, and asking three questions," said Corie Griffiths, the business development co-ordinator with the Economic Development Commission

The questions are: How is business? What do you like about doing business in your area?  What could be done to improve your business?

They're simple enough queries, but the answers could be used to build a much stronger economy in years to come, Griffiths explained.

"What we're hoping to glean is common themes about issues, barriers and opportunities that we can hopefully use to create a conversation," she said.

"Then we'll create public reports on what the majority of responses are."

Individual comment, however, will remain anonymous.

In the short term, however, it will also give business owners and the municipalities policy makers and shapers a rare chance to speak.

Usually, those conversations are delivered through a middleman, like Peggy Athans of the Downtown Kelowna Association.

"Most of these are local, independently run businesses and they're busy," she said.

"They're running businesses with little staff, they don't have as much time to write letters to visit city hall and communicate directly to them."

So, as the current ear for downtown businesses, Athans has a pretty good guess about what she's going to hear today.

"In downtown, there's a lot of optimism," she said. "They're seeing things pick up, even with all the revitalization downtown. I visit people once a week, and it's been surprisingly,  extremely positive."

While the downtown may be enthusiastic about economic conditions, Okanaganites know that each region and neighbourhood has its own set of challenges, which is why no area is being left un-canvassed.

Kelowna Coun. Gail Given will be on duty in Rutland this afternoon in an attempt to fuel the EDC in its fact finding mission, and it's an opportunity she looks forward to exploring.

"Any time we can meet our constituents face to face, in their environment,  it helps us make good decisions," she said. "We are a community where a large part of economy is supported by entrepreneurs. If our economy is going to move forward then we need to understand their perspective."

When she's there, she'll also be able to fill business owners ini on what resources are currently available from the municipality.

Business Walks Kelowna is a pilot project that's the first of its kind Canada-wide.

In the US, however, it's been quite popular.

The business walks in Sacramento California won acclaim from international economic developers  for strengthening local economies.

The business walks help initiate contacts with businesses in the region and is the start of an ongoing conversation to help get businesses the resources they need to succeed.

Results from the exercise will be compiled in the weeks to come, and released at the Central Okanagan Economic Summit, being held later this month.

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