While some downtown stores remain empty and there seems to be little or no growth in the Town of Ponoka, forward strides are still being made.
Sarah Olson, economic development officer said the Southwest Industrial Park has seen change with the potential of one company expanding to a new location and Gemini Corporation expanding with the purchase of more land in the park. She invited members of the community to a social gathering Dec. 4 to highlight some of the events of the year.
Ponoka is a member of the Central Alberta Access Prosperity, which focuses on economic growth for 40 municipalities in central Alberta. Olson has met with companies from Australia on oilfield development and been involved in planning with the group.
“There’s been lots of different things that we’ve been able to be involved with,” explained Olson.
Another area she is proud of is a recent workshop called Engaging Our Aboriginal Workforce that the town hosted. People from nearby First Nations areas and municipalities came to the one-day conference to open communication between the two cultures. While there may still be some hesitancy from businesses being willing to take a leap of faith, there is potential to bridge the gap of understanding, according to Olson. She said one company is working on transporting people without cars to and from work.
“There is actually a company right now serving that need,” explained Olson.
“It was a first step,” she added.
Businesses in Ponoka that are doing well are adapting and changing to the market needs and while they may not look the same as when they first started, they are seeing growth.
“To keep a business, it needs to change,” she said.
While Olson is working on new growth for the Town of Ponoka, the economic development board is in a state of transition. Usually there are 12 members of the council-nominated board, explained chairperson Gary Colyn, but some long-standing members have since left.
Now there are five on the board with open positions being advertised. “There’s a few that have suggested interest. There’s probably just as many wanting to come on board as those that left.”
The volunteer board is having to look at its operations again as new members come on board, added Colyn.
While Mayor Rick Bonnett has been in office for only six weeks, he feels there is much work to be done. He suggests a taskforce to revitalize downtown may help move things forward but there are also five new councillors who are still getting their feet wet. “This taskforce is going to be one of the big pushes,” Bonnett stressed.
New ideas are needed for downtown as Bonnett does not feel it will be a “retail Mecca” He suggests businesspeople, residents and councillors should all have a say in helping bring new development to the community.
“If we don’t try something different, we’re not going to know,” explained Bonnett.
Growth has been seen in other areas of the town such as the Southwest Industrial Park. “The (Highway) 2A corridor is working very well for us,” the mayor said.
A 2011 national household survey shows the number of commuters to and from Ponoka, which Olson found interesting. Commuter flows in and out of town show 2,025 Ponoka residents work in town, who make up roughly half the workforce employed in town with the other half commuting in. Of the commuters who come into Ponoka, half are from the county, some 1105 individuals, followed by 300 from Lacombe County and 245 from the City of Lacombe.
As for commuters going out of town for work, they represented about a quarter of the workforce in the Town of Ponoka. Some 185 residents were found to be commuting to Red Deer, 105 to Lacombe County, 95 to Blackfalds and 85 to Wetaskiwin.
Ponoka’s 2014 interim budget was to be announced Dec. 10 at a town council meeting. Bonnett would not give details on the budget but said there were some elements there that would show council’s vision for its first year.
2013 business statistics for the Town of Ponoka as of Nov. 30 are as follows:
• Seventy-four new licensed businesses, 16 per cent increase from 2012
• 544 total business licenses
• 255 commercial, retail and industrial businesses, 18 per cent increase from 2012
• 22 per cent of Ponoka businesses are home based
• $18.1 million building permit value, 13 per cent increase
• 13 housing starts at $2.4 million