In an effort to see growth in Ponoka, town representatives are heading to Whistler, B.C. to hobnob with big businesses and developers.
The conference is hosted by the International Council of Shopping Centres (ICSC) from Jan. 26 to 28 and has become one way municipalities can network with businesses, said Mayor Rick Bonnett. Companies such as PCL Construction Management, Qualico and Starbucks have exhibitor spaces and municipalities such as the cities of Edmonton and Wetaskiwin also have spaces there. “We’ve been talking to a few other towns and jurisdictions that have been doing it for 10 or 15 years.”
The response from participants to the conference has been positive, said Bonnett and he feels the only way to know if the trip does well is how he and Ponoka representatives present themselves at the conference.
Bonnett will go with Sarah Olson, economic development officer for the Town of Ponoka and Coun. Teri Underhill, council representative on the Economic Development Board.
This is the first time Ponoka will be attending a conference of this nature so he cannot say for sure what the results will be but some municipalities have been able to secure new businesses because of the conference: Wetaskiwin enticed Sport Check to move into the Wetaskiwin Mall.
“The hope is that we can get some companies to us; two of the companies that are there are companies that have already poked around Ponoka a little bit…It’s another way of networking,” said Bonnett.
“It’s the only developer/retail conference in North America,” he added.
One of the issues during elections was attracting more businesses to Ponoka and Bonnett feels this is another way of doing that. Considering that other communities feel this is a valuable conference, he suggests this may be a worthwhile endeavour.
This is the first time a Ponoka council has considered the idea of sending town representatives to a developers’ conference, explained Bonnett. Growth has been relatively slow in Ponoka and he hopes to jumpstart development.
“Obviously they’re not knocking on our doors, so let’s go knock on theirs a little,” stated Bonnett.
Companies attending the ICSC Whistler Conference are from all over North America who may want to expand their business. “We’re going to hit 20 or 25 of them in one spot.”
Olson is putting together an information package, which will include last year’s Global advertising video the town advertised on Global TV. Bonnett wants to invite company representatives to the Ponoka Stampede as well to give them a taste of the rodeo lifestyle. He intends to promote the Centennial Centre for Mental Health and Brain Injury and the river valley and its trails because he feels these are factors that will attract people.
The biggest challenge appears to be how the town will appear to prospective businesses; Ponoka is not the only municipality vying for new development. When Olson went to Missouri, she was amongst other businesses, towns and cities speaking with companies.
“Don’t think that it’s an easy job to land these things but if you aren’t out there, then you’re not going to land any either,” said Bonnett.
Following up with contacts will be Olson’s job after the trip to keep a strong relationship, he said. “It’s probably not a bad idea to follow-up in the first couple weeks.”