Looking back at the year gives everyone a chance to reflect and consider possibilities for the future.
Reflecting on those accomplishments is something Sarah Olson, economic development officer for the Town of Ponoka, feels is an integral part of her job. The town hosted a social gathering at the ag event centre Dec. 5 to show businesspeople some of the highlights of 2012 and to consider what the next year will bring and, “to thank the economic development board.”
“I think it’s a good opportunity to also invite people out who are interested in economic development and have people share ideas and collaborate on what’s worked well in the past and what can we potentially do in the future,” she explained.
She feels there is a benefit to reviewing the past year as it is easy to forget different campaigns.
An exchange program with Crossfield called First Impressions Community Exchange (FICE) had representatives from each town toured the other municipality and gave feedback of their experiences. Information was exchanged in the spring. There were five areas they feel needed to be addressed:
• An industrial park cleanup initiative.
• Enhancing downtown appeal.
• A need for public transportation and alternative housing.
• Create a draw for young families and professionals.
• Better leverage of tourism opportunities.
She feels there are some benefits to the program.
“I think FICE was just a really good way of having, as the name suggests, a first impression of our community from an outsider perspective…It had good benchmarking for a community that had some similarities to ours,” she stated.
It also gave her some ideas for moving forward.
A recent community statistics report from Census Canada has given the town information of the different groups of residents; the number of men and women at a certain age and how many children live in town help planners identify community needs. Olson suggested if there was a high population of children in the community then more homes and family services would be needed.
“If you have more in your aging population then you’re going to have more people looking towards senior’s living, condominium units… health care needs in the community change based on your population structure,” said Olson. “Basically it helps identify a lot of community needs when you look at that and how the municipality addresses them.”
There is still 2011 information that has not been released by Census Canada as it takes time to compile it, she explained. Labour statistics are not yet available.
However the town does have 18 housing starts to date for 2012 making up $4.3 million of the $15.7 million in building permits; the difference comes from commercial and industrial permits.
Olson looks forward to next year. “I’m just excited for the amount of development interest we’ve had in the community. We’ve had a lot of interest from developers and people looking into the community, both internally and externally.”
She feels the opening of the ag event centre, the 75th anniversary of the Ponoka Stampede and other developments such as the splash park and the Summer Send Off are helping make Ponoka a desirable location. “It’s important to note that it’s an upward trend.”
The ag centre is a building Olson feels has helped lead the way for Ponoka. “Some of the interest that’s come into our community already, people have mentioned the ag event centre, so they’ve heard about it.”
Events she feels have promoted Ponoka include a film crew with Women’s Pro Rodeo Today that filmed a three-part series during the Ponoka Stampede; it helped showcased the town in the United States, said Olson. “A total of 545,000 viewers across three episodes.”
The group follows women’s barrel racing and felt the town was ideal for their program.
Another program unveiled Ponoka’s “Keep it Real” brand, the new website www.ponoka.ca was launched and the Nominate Your Neighbour campaign was held.
Olson believes these different experiences have helped Ponoka and its development. “I feel like everyone’s working really well together.”
Expect to see new banners for downtown showcasing the brand and a business and community guide and a promotional video produced by Global TV. Also way-finding signage for visitors will be developed, which will point to downtown and the visitors centre; eventually Olson expects to see pedestrian signs pointing to the river valley trails and other amenities.