There’s much to celebrate when it comes to Ponoka’s small businesses and while there may be challenges for every entrepreneur, there are also successes.
Working closely with businesses is something Stephen Novak, economic development officer (EDO) for the Town of Ponoka, focuses on. He feels the majority of Ponoka businesses fall under the small business category and Novak suggests support from the town can come in a variety of ways.
Way-finding signage to the downtown area or helping shape policies such as land-use bylaws or town bylaws are some of the ways Novak feels he can help.
He uses the business cafes as a tool to hear feedback from businesses on what works and what doesn’t. One of the challenges small businesses face is operating in a rural area and competing with larger centres such as Red Deer and Edmonton. These cities have larger box stores making competing difficult for small rural shops, he added.
“The biggest issue I think that we’re seeing is leakage to other markets,” said Novak.
He says residents in small towns are more often travelling to larger centres to do their shopping. They are looking for better prices in the large cities, he added.
Traditional shopping in the downtown area has changed over the years, says Novak, and businesses have to think of different ways to drive foot traffic to their front door.
One idea received from a recent business café was that businesses could work together to cross-promote their stores. Alberta businesses also face competition with high salaries in the oil patch and Novak says attendees felt small town businesses might be able to pool their resources and share the cost of hiring an employee.
“Access to employees is a big issue as well,” said Novak.
While the business cafes are one way to reach Ponoka businesses, Novak says he welcomes a phone call or email as well. He wants to work closely with all Ponoka businesses.
“I believe small businesses are the backbone of the economy,” Novak concluded.