While rural country may not be a major hotspot for businesses, the ones dotting Ponoka County have been operating long-term and successfully.
CAO Charlie Cutforth says the county has 164 commercial and light industrial businesses on its tax roll.
The business variety includes dog kennels, small mechanics and body shops, machinists, trucking operations, golf courses, meat processing shops and seed cleaning plants.
“We don’t have a whole lot of retail,” said Cutforth referring to the few shops in Bluffton.
“We also have a couple of commercial businesses in Maskwacis,” he added.
A helicopter business operates primarily out of the Ponoka Industrial Airport and rural veterinary clinics service the predominantly agricultural area.
The county does not see many closures and a lot of the businesses that started supplemental to a farming operation have become primary.
“I think they’re all doing well enough. They’ve all been in business for a long time,” said Cutforth.
Excluding the Highway 2 corridor, Cutforth says the county has no real hotspots. “They’re scattered all over the place.”
However, the Highway 2 corridor is beginning to attract businesses, with many being larger entities that require the ample road access the major highway provides.
In Ponoka County, it is relatively easy to start a business. “They just come in and for $25 they get a development permit,” said Cutforth.
Ponoka County is known for having some of the lowest taxes across the province and demands little after the initial development cost. “We try to keep things as simple as possible,” said Cutforth.
“Commercial taxes are higher than residential taxes . . . it’s worked very well for us,” he added, explaining the lack of need for many different imposed fees.
Ponoka County draws 75 per cent of its tax income from the oil and gas industry, 21 to 22 per cent is residential and the remaining is commercial and farmland.
If the business is a discretionary use according to the land-use bylaw, the county will inform nearby landowners and a public hearing takes place. Businesses have been turned away in the past due to infrastructure, road access or strong objections from the landowners, but it is not a habit.
“We try to encourage businesses to come to the area,” said Cutforth.
At the same time Ponoka County is a large supporter of the wellbeing of its two major towns, Ponoka and Rimbey, and new businesses coming in are also encouraged to speak with the towns to examine all options and locations.
Cutforth says another reason this is a practice of the county is because minimal county land is fully serviced to the standards a business would need.
With its many communication towers, the county is also able to provide advanced Internet access to most areas and Cutforth says he has received calls from businesses looking to set up in the area inquiring about high-speed Internet access. “For the attraction of businesses, that’s an area most people don’t think about.”