Empty stores, a slow growing population and limited shopping. These are some of the issues Sarah Olson, economic development officer (EDO) for the Town of Ponoka, deals with.
She discusses her role and how the town works with businesses to help drive development in Ponoka. “The goal of economic development is new business development as well as business retention and expansion of current businesses.”
Much of that is done by working closely with current businesses in the community, she explained. She feels the role the Town of Ponoka can play has several facets; approaching prospective businesses and ensuring services are available, finding gaps in the community residents would like to see, and bringing like-minded groups together.
“For example we do have an opportunities page on our website that identifies a few different things. For example we need a shoe store or different types of retail development,” she explained. “I feel economic development is a connector.”
She meets with real estate agents around the province who do business in the area to keep them updated on some of the changes happening to Ponoka. “Specifically because it helps their business.”
A business directory on the town website is another way the town is promoting businesses. She advises those who want to promote their business to contact her to ensure the correct address, a profile picture and description is on the site.
“It’s a free tool for our businesses,” she said.
There are two changes in Ponoka Olson looks forward to, one is the construction of the Western Budget motel as well as some businesses taking the initiative to promote themselves.
“I’m excited about some of the niche businesses we have and some of the interest our downtown businesses have taken in rejuvenating downtown. I think that enthusiasm is really, really exciting,” she explained.
She feels their initiative has opened the doors of communication with the town.
Home-based businesses are another aspect of the town’s growth, she stated. With 528 licenced businesses, 88 have home offices and 32 are home businesses. There are 209 businesses with storefront space, which can include retail or industrial. The other 199 licences come from businesses in the county or out of town businesses. With the amount of home-based businesses, Olson believes it is a positive sign.
“I think that’s really promising and it shows the entrepreneurial spirit that a lot of people in Ponoka seem to exemplify,” stated Olson.
The ag event centre is another change that seems to have had a positive effect on the town. Olson said the marketing study on the centre showed there would be a ripple effect because of the building.
“Is it only because the ag event centre is here? That’s hard to tell but I would strongly suspect that obviously they play a large part in helping to expand our tourism market for more days out of the year,” she said.
Ag event centre manager Chas Lambert feels there has been a large amount of people coming to Ponoka because of the centre.
“We’ve brought a lot of units into the community of the year.”
As ag event centre visitors prepare for their events Friday night and Saturday morning he has seen them head to town to conduct their weekend shopping. For businesses seeking to take advantage of the influx of people, Lambert suggested they take advantage of the advertising opportunities available.
Lambert used to manage the agricultural side of the Keystone Centre in Brandon, Man. and said the centre was one of the key draws for the city. He feels the ag centre is a catalyst for Ponoka’s growth.
He was also grateful for the support the centre has so far received.
“I think we’re very lucky to have support from local businesses,” he said. “The sky is the limit.”
The event centre is barely a year old and is already seeing groups book dates several years ahead. “We’re in the first year and already we’re looking very positive.”
Olson said the new splash park provides a reason to take a day trip and now the Summer Send Off appears to bring people to town. She commended the organizers for their efforts to bring businesses together to inform them of concert promoters’ plans.
Another way Olson hopes to have residents and businesses apprised of special events is the town’s community calendar on the town’s website. As more people inform the town office of their events it will help keep communication lines open, she said.
The challenge she currently faces is keeping the different groups communicating with each other. The Ponoka and District Chamber of Commerce, the economic development board, and now two newer groups, Ponoka Road Trip and the Ponoka Unique Merchants Assocation (PUMA) might have similar goals but different ways of promoting themselves.
Ponoka Road Trip
Sherry Gummow of Busted Ladies Lingerie is the chairman for Ponoka Road Trip, her goal is to bring business from out of town. “Most small budgets will advertise as well as their budgets will allow.”
Her goal was to bring businesses together and pool finances for a wide-reaching customer base. “$300 will get you nothing.”
By bringing these businesses together they have been able to take advantage of a grant from Travel Alberta. She believes working with the other businesses can make their marketing plans stronger.
“You’ve gotta be willing to work cooperatively,” she stated. “We are marketing Ponoka as a great place to go for a road trip.”
The group has just recently started so it will be some time before they know if the marketing has worked but Gummow always asks new customers how they heard about her business.
If customers start coming because of this marketing campaign she suggests businesses must follow through with hard work. “Then we have to outdo ourselves.”
The key to advertising is repeating the marketing campaign before they see results.
“You have to repeat, repeat, repeat normally before people take action,” she explained.
Danny Lineham of Siding 14 is working to promote some of the more “unique businesses.”
“We see the unique businesses as a means to bring interest in,” said Lineham.
He feels the Ponoka Unique Merchant’s Association’s goal is the same as Ponoka Road Trip and he hoped to keep communication open with the other groups in town.
He also feels there is a need for different businesses such as an antique shop and a specialty coffee shop. “There’s so many good ideas for Ponoka.”
Another way to increase shopping traffic is with groups such as the Klaglahachie Fine Arts Society, he said. Rather than a show once or twice a year he feels the group could bring produce more plays throughout the year. These ideas are some of the ways to bring people to town.
“I’m happy to work with anybody who’s trying to promote Ponoka,” he said. “And it can be done in different ways.”
He feels certain areas of Ponoka should be showcased more prominently. “The other thing with downtown is it’s an incredibly historic downtown.”
One thing appears to be the same with many of the groups working to promote Ponoka and that is to communicate with each other.