Port Alberni Food Hub is a hit with small businesses transforming local resources

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When Kelly and Brian Flurer moved their seafood smoking business to Port Alberni from Campbell River, they became part of a local small business community sharing space in a refurbished fish processing plant.

Previously called Port Fish, a former major employer, the plant had been inactive for a decade. It was brought back to life to serve as an incubator for agribusiness companies working with locally harvested resources in a sustainable manner. It’s everything from seaweed and mushrooms and other wild edibles, to oyster and geoduck seeds.

The Dock + food hub is one of a dozen in the province, all aimed at encouraging greater food security and innovation. The Port Alberni hub celebrated its grand opening on Friday.

After opening last year, it quickly filled with businesses keen to take advantage of modern amenities in a federally certified facility. As tenants, small businesses and start-ups haven’t faced the prohibitive cost of building and obtaining federal certification for their own factory.

The facility offers opportunities, said Kelly Flurer. There is a shortage of federally approved factories on the island, and small businesses would not be able to meet the required standards and meet the costs of constructing a building.

“This is a huge opportunity for a lot of businesses,” she said.

Moving to Port Alberni gave Flurer Smokery Ltd., founded in 2008, better access to a variety of inexpensive seafood caught off the island’s west coast. It has also “opened a lot of doors” to a wider clientele, said Kelly Flurer.

The couple smoke, work in the factory and bring their produce to farmers’ markets. Another company sells its smoked seafood at markets in the Lower Mainland.

Flurer Smokery works with First Nations bands, anglers and commercial fishers. Brian Flurer is affiliated with the Dene Nation near Yellowknife.

The company operates an ice-making plant, a forced-air freezer and provides freezer storage on behalf of the Port Alberni Port Authority, which owns The Dock +.

Mica Verbrugge, owner of Canadian Seafood Processing Inc. and Effingham Oysters, was looking for a new place to process oysters. He found The Dock + to be a perfect fit for his business.

The hub allowed it to expand inventory and services.

This year, his company launched an online store to sell fresh and frozen produce, delivering to Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland.

The inventory includes speckled shrimp, lingcod, salmon, tuna, oysters, sablefish and halibut for commercial and private customers.

Like other industries in British Columbia, Canadian Seafood is facing a labor shortage, said Victoria Lake, the company’s director of quality. The company currently has five people and wants to increase this number to 16.

The Dock + opened after an investment of around $ 1.5 million. Support has come from the province, the City of Port Alberni, the Port Authority and the Island Coastal Economic Trust.

The BC Ministry of Agriculture wants hubs to increase food security and encourage innovation as local businesses grow.

Agriculture Minister Lana Popham said earlier that COVID is creating challenges for small businesses and families looking for good quality, safe and secure local food.

“With each new food hub, we are giving more small and medium businesses the opportunity to grow, creating jobs and helping communities connect with local food. “

Provincial funding for the food hub network is part of British Columbia’s $ 10 billion response to the pandemic.

Dave McCormick, director of public relations and business development for the port authority, said it made no economic sense to try to restart his old fish processing plant with just one tenant. It appeared to have more potential to renovate the plant, giving it a restart to accommodate several tenants working on seafood and agricultural processing, and obtaining government certifications.

“They [the tenants] didn’t have to worry about bricks and mortar, ”McCormick said. The facility also has a 1,254 square foot commercial kitchen that produces everything from baked goods to tasty soups.

McCormick said he regularly hears from businesses looking to move in. At present, all the rentable space except the kitchen is spoken.

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