Haines businesses pictured in the Chamber of Commerce Business Retention and Expansion Report.

Haines isn’t the easiest place to run a business. But the quality of life keeps people here. Those are a couple takeaways from a business survey conducted by the Haines Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber interviewed 41 business owners or managers in an effort to better understand local economic challenges.

It’s not a thriving economy that keeps most businesses in Haines, it’s the quality of life. Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Debra Schnabel says that message is clear in the recently-completed Business Retention and Expansion Report.

“Like, why are you doing business in Haines? The predominant answer is I love it here,” Schnabel said. “This is my home, this is where I want to be.”

The survey comes from the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. Its goal is to give communities a tool to analyze drivers of the economy and come up with strategies to grow existing businesses.

In 2016, the Chamber interviewed 41 business owners and managers. They were mostly small businesses, with an average of 10 employees. Many of those employees aren’t full-time. About half are either part-time or seasonal.

The majority of business owners were in the middle when asked how they feel about Haines as a place to do business. Forty percent said ‘fair.’

But the question that followed received a much more enthusiastic response. It asked each person’s opinion of Haines as a place to live.

“Overwhelmingly everyone said excellent,” said Chamber board president Kyle Gray. “I found those two contrasting points to be very interesting. So it seems that a lot of the business owners think it’s a fair place to do business but a great place to live.”

What keeps the economy from being more than fair? The survey highlights some of the challenges business owners face.

“The cost of freight,” Schnabel said. “Almost every business has identified freight costs as one of the biggest hindrances that they have.”

Recruitment is also a problem for a little under half of the businesses that participated in the survey. The main recruitment issues cited were inadequate labor skills and competition for employees. Schnabel says that might point to issues for businesses trying to find more highly-skilled workers.

Internet and cell phone service also present challenges. Sixty-seven percent of the survey respondents said they were not satisfied with internet service because it is too slow or too expensive.

Schnabel says she was surprised at the number of business owners who said they were thinking of expanding. Although 15 respondents said they were thinking about selling their businesses, a higher number, 25, plan to grow.

“I think that’s a very powerful statement that people are committed and they feel that they’re comfortable in what they’re doing,” Schnabel said.

Both Schnabel and Gray were alarmed by the fact that more than half of respondents said they do not have a business or strategic plan.

“I thought that was very interesting because those people who do have businesses plans and who are building their business on a plan are so much more successful,” Schnabel said.

Gray says it’s especially concerning in light of another question.

“Literally the section right before that in this report outlined that changes in the market was one of the biggest things business owners saw,” Gray said. “So they see a lot of changes in the market, but they don’t seem to have a strategic plan to be preparing for it.”

An even larger number of respondents said their business doesn’t have a succession plan, for who would take over their business after them.

The Chamber hopes the information in the report will help them develop programs or classes to help local businesses succeed.

See the full report here: Chamber business survey