Local businesses and community groups were invited to a holiday social gathering Wednesday, Dec. 10 as part of an initiative by the Town of Ponoka to not only have people network, but also to celebrate accomplishments over the year.
Stephen Novak, economic development officer for the town, says while Ponoka is seeing increases in housing starts and improvements in commercial development, there is still some legwork needed to see major growth.
“There has to be a lot of groundwork done before you can take advantage of economic benefits,” said Novak.
Planners have to take a balanced approach when looking at population growth versus infrastructure improvements. Novak likened the perpetual cycle to the popular chicken and the egg metaphor where you can’t have one without the other. “It’s just making sure that we grow at an appropriate rate.”
He took suggestions from businesses during the Economic Development Board’s business cafes and is working on new projects for 2015. One such development relates to a “business incubator” that has been applied recently with some success in Rocky Mountain House.
Small businesses can pool their resources together to share in overhead costs at one location. With empty buildings in the downtown area Novak suggests property owners may be willing to drop rental rates in order to ensure they can get some return on investment.
He says the town could potentially look at helping businesses pay for some improvements in the building to allow five or six small businesses to rent one property. Town planners are not responsible to bring customers to a business, says Novak, but he suggests the town can help by improving the overall look of sidewalks and streets.
“It’s akin to saying, ‘Why do we spend money on recreation and hospitals?’” Novak said. He suggests these are economic drivers that will see benefits in shoppers buying locally.