Residents, town council and Town of Ponoka staff are working together to build momentum for economic growth. The key factor appears to be acceptance of a common goal.
Much of the work of Ponoka’s economic development board (EDB) is trying to bring new businesses to Ponoka. Chairman Gary Colyn said they are compiling a list of vacant buildings in town to come up with an inventory for prospective companies. “To make these businesses and empty buildings fill up with businesses.”
He wants to create a welcoming commercial environment. There have been some discussions among the EDB members over comments published in the Ponoka News and the board is working to create a positive atmosphere.
“Really, the paper is not responsible for the community being positive. A community has to be positive within itself,” stated Colyn.
He suggests actions speak a great deal to having a healthy town. One member, Peter Oakes, is working in the industrial area to ensure lots are presentable and clean. “To make the industrial park look more than an industrial park.”
The challenge he faces is trying to get people together for a voluntary committee but despite the difficulties, the people on the board have a desire to see the town flourish. “If anything, to get feedback to the town as far as what the business community has on their mind.”
Much of the work of the EDB is following up with reports presented to the Town of Ponoka such as the recent Ponoka Recreation Advisory Committee’s recreation survey, which is available on the town website. Councillors Izak van der Westhuizen and Rick Bonnett also sit on the board.
Colyn suggests the Town of Ponoka needs to increase its budget to hire more staff such as Sarah Olson, economic development officer. “I think that, honestly, the town needs to spend a few more dollars on getting people like Sarah who are community-minded and positive. We need more of that…I don’t think we’re spending enough on town employees.”
Based on community feedback, Colyn feels employees are stretched thin with their work. He suggests the town can become more successful if operated like a business. “With community in mind,” he added.
Colyn does feel the town is working on fostering positive attitudes within the community and wants to “keep it rolling.”
For Olson’s part, she has been working on way-finding signage and $30,000 has been allotted this year. “It’s an incremental plan.”
She has been working with a committee to prioritize which areas of the town people should be directed to. The starting point is the Highway 2A and Highway 53 intersection. From there signs will direct motorists to spots such as the recreation buildings, the Stampede campground and the ag event centre. The river valley is another area of interest.
New banners are currently in the proofing stages and Olson is working to ensure they capture the eyes of passersby. “We want it to be very easy to see and read.”
“I’m excited that they will add a splash of colour and they will add a bit more vibrancy to the streetscape.”
Approximately 80 banners of different sizes will go up around Ponoka, some downtown and the larger ones going along the two highway intersections. Billboard placement is also in the works for the town along Highway 2. Olson is working with property owners to rent land.
She also worked with Family and Community Support Services to install some benches downtown. “I think that’s a great thing for the community.”
The town has also been able to take advantage of a $1,500 grant to add some more elements to the tractor park across from Siding 14. “We’re working on a heritage sign of Ponoka and various elements of our history.”
With the different plans for this year, Olson said there are many solutions for small towns to revitalize the business community. Ponoka is not the only community struggling to compete against the larger centres’ shopping amenities but she feels the town can make some changes.
A downtown revitalization webinar offers ways to make empty stores more inviting with murals on the windows or advertisements of other stores’ offerings.
“I think we have to get creative in our solutions,” stated Olson.
Those webinars are available to borrow from Ponoka Town Hall and the Ponoka Jubilee Library.