Deputy Mayor Kevin Ferguson spoke to Ponoka and District Chamber of Commerce members over Zoom on Sept. 22, giving an update on what the town has done to support residents and businesses during COVID-19.
The meeting started off with an update from chamber executive manager Heather Bendera.
Bendera noted the recent passing of chamber vice president Inger Laing, and said she would be “sadly missed.”
The annual chamber business awards will be held virtually on Oct. 23. Strand Media will be producing and live streaming the event.
Bendera says the chamber is looking forward to the awards this year, although they will look different, as it’s been a difficult year for all small business owners and the recognition is “well-deserved.”
A good number of nominations were received, including several last-minute entries.
Planning for Almost Midnight Madness, which will be held on Nov. 20, has also begun.
The chamber announced it has a new member, Gurpreet Virdi, the owner of the Ponoka Wendy’s.
Virdi has been the owner of the Ponoka location for three years now, and has a background in management consultation.
Ferguson outlined the town’s economic initiatives that have been implemented since the onset of COVID-19, as well as the downturn in oil and gas.
The town rolled out a zero per cent tax increase 2020 budget and created utility and property tax deferral programs.
To-date, 59 people applied for the tax relief program, and two people took part in the utility relief program.
The town also approved an economic resiliency action plan in June.
A new Economic Development Strategy was also approved in August as a guideline for future discussions and strategies.
Ponoka town council has also approved a new resident attraction and incentive program that promotes the benefits of living in Ponoka, such as its central location, historic downtown, the scenic River Valley, lower COVID-19 cases and population density, as well as fibre optic Internet.
The program has reportedly already had some success with attracting new residents to town who came from larger urban centres.
Ferguson said while COVID-19 has been very challenging and “glaringly exposes our weaknesses,” that is also gives Ponoka businesses an opportunity to come out of the pandemic “better than before.”
The chamber’s next general meeting will be on Oct. 20.