The Big Lakes County Business Supports Program officially launched today during Canada’s Small Business Week. The Program is available to any business within the Big Lakes County limits. It includes free research services, a forthcoming business directory, resources sheets, workshops, advisory services, and more. Current and future partners in the program include local communities, Chambers of Commerce, Community Futures, and other resources in Alberta and Canada such as Futurpreneur, Alberta Innovates, and Business Link.
Big Lakes County’s Economic Development Authority (EDA) designed the program to address findings from its June 2018 local business survey. The survey was conducted to better understand the local business environment in the Big Lakes County-High Prairie-Swan Hills area. One of the action items from the survey was to create a program aimed at improving retention and expansion of existing businesses, and thus increasing investments and jobs.
“When our local businesses do well, our economy does well. It’s important for us to work with business owners towards their success. It’s a win-win,” said Reeve Ken Matthews.
Joyce Stokes of Larner Consulting has joined the Big Lakes County Economic Development Authority (EDA) as its Business Resources Advisor to lead the Business Supports Program. Joyce works one-on-one and confidentially with businesses to connect them to local, provincial, and federal resources. Joyce points companies in the right direction and works with the rest of the EDA on bigger issues that impact all businesses.
“I’m honoured to be a part of the EDA and to work alongside Lisa Baroldi, Jordan Panasiuk, and the Big Lakes County councillors and staff,” said Joyce Stokes. “The business survey produced invaluable data that we are using to shape our program. We are tracking our results and hope to see a permanent business supports service in the future for this area. We had a soft launch this summer. So far, businesses are very appreciative of the work that we are doing.”
About the Big Lakes County Local Business
The survey randomly selected companies for statistical accuracy. Key findings included:
- Overall, businesses in the area are small (1-10 full-time employees) and long-standing operations (over 10 years) that own their own properties. They sell their goods and services mostly to the local market.
- Over 80% of businesses are satisfied with doing business in the area and feel increasingly optimistic about the business climate and future revenues.
- Businesses are most concerned about the availability of skilled labour in the area, followed by development/building permit processes, internet and cell service, municipal property taxes, and roads.
- Approximately 24% of business owners (19 businesses) surveyed are looking to expand, while 39% (31 businesses) are considering relocating, downsizing, selling or closing.
According to “The 2018 Local Business Survey: Key Findings and Action Plan for the Big Lakes County – High Prairie – Swan Hills Area,” these key findings show that businesses in the area are optimistic and resilient, but are struggling in different ways. While the business community appears stable at face value, there are underlying issues to monitor and address, such as the concerns mentioned above, start-up activity, youth entrepreneurship, HR planning and best practices, long-term planning for succession and growth, market diversification, and possible information gaps that impair decision making. All of these issues increase a business community’s vulnerability.
The Business Supports Program is one way to that the EDA hopes to strengthen the business community. The EDA will also be conducting a labour market study and working with relevant departments to better communicate its progress on permitting and on Internet/Cellular reception. Focus is also on on following up with companies that participated in the survey, as well as offering services to those that did not. The survey results and action plan, along with expected outcomes, are publicly available on the Big Lakes County website.
The Local Business Survey and the Business Supports Program are partially funded by the Alberta Community and Regional Economic Development Supports (CARES) Program. The Program will run until 2020 as a pilot project. Another survey will be conducted to determine the Program’s impact. Businesses are encouraged to take advantage of it and provide feedback to help the EDA lobby the province for a permanent service for our area.
Big Lakes County looks forward to continuing to work with our current and future municipal program partners such as the Town of High Prairie, Town of Swan Hills, East Prairie Métis Settlement. Gift Lake Métis Settlement, Peavine Métis Settlement, Driftpile Cree First Nation, Kapawe’no First Nation, White Fish First Nation, Sucker Creek First Nation, and Swan River First Nation.