Whistler trip brings potential for development in Ponoka

A trip to Whistler has councillors excited about the future of Ponoka.

A trip to Whistler has councillors excited about the future of Ponoka.

Town representatives, including Mayor Rick Bonnett, Coun. Teri Underhill and Sarah Olson, economic development officer, came back from a trip to the International Council of Shopping Centres (ICSC) conference in Whistler, B.C. last week.

This conference brings large companies and developers together to meet with municipalities such as the cities of Wetaskiwin, Airdrie, Calgary and Edmonton. Mayor Rick Bonnett said some of these cities have economic development groups whose job is to entice companies to their communities. “They were there to work, to make deals.”

He said his focus was mainly on developers because many times developers are able to secure businesses on their land. While he does not expect results in the next few months, Bonnett said one or two companies will be travelling to Ponoka soon.

“There’s interest in this area, there’s no doubt about it,” said Bonnett.

Ponoka is not the only town looking for businesses though, as much of Central Alberta is being looked at. He feels annexed land on Highway 2 has potential and suggests the town is in a position to bring landowners in touch with these developers.

“We don’t have any land ready, yes, but we’re ready to go,” said Bonnett.

He wants Olson to travel to the conference with a specific strategy for next year.

Underhill said the trip was an eye-opener. “For me, it’s outstanding to see where things are going.”

“I think the benefit in the long run is we will have some businesses coming to Ponoka,” explained Underhill.

“We have a potential gold mine in that Highway 2 corridor,” she added.

While there is a cost to sending a delegation to conferences such as ICSC, Underhill suggests if people want to see growth, the town must be willing to spend some money to reach that goal.

Olson intends to continue developing relationships with companies they met with. “This is definitely a first step. Basically the relationship building component has been started.”

The point of the trip is to bring more commercial and retail industry to the town and Olson suggested being at these conferences gives these companies a contact, a face behind the town.

While there is opportunity for development in Ponoka, Olson said the town is considered to be a high-risk endeavour for businesses. Some companies find higher rate of development in communities more appealing, she explained. “We do not necessarily have the level of growth that some areas have.”

Plus Ponoka has had slow population growth over recent years, which makes companies more cautious.

So she provided company representatives with tangible maps and statistics to show them some of the benefits of developing in town.

“There is definitely a good deal of interest, specifically in the annexed land by the highway,” added Olson.

To minimize the cost of the trip, the delegation rented an apartment, which Bonnett said was cheaper than each person taking a hotel room for three nights.