The Town of Strathmore has launched a new approach to addressing the needs of local businesses, and fostering economic growth with the start of a business needs assessment.

Recognizing economic development as one of their top priorities in the 2022-25 Strategic Plan, the town aims to foster growth and enhance economic development.

“We also recognize that the economy is tough right now, there are workforce challenges, supply chain issues, housing shortages, and all of these things affect our businesses,” said Mayor Pat Fule in a release. “We need a clear picture of where we should start and a plan on how to support local businesses and intentionally position for sustainable growth.”

Town of Strathmore Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Kevin Scoble explained the assessment is a process designed to gather information and insight from participating businesses.

The idea being to better understand the needs, challenges and available opportunities to local businesses and their proprietors. 

“By engaging with the businesses and getting their input, the town can better understand their current economic situation, and that helps us to allocate our resources in the most effective way to enable the businesses and contribute to their success,” he said. “Economic development is one of the town’s top priorities … and so as part of that priority, an outcome is to achieve a healthy and resilient business community.”

Having collected local business and economic data pre, and during COVID-19, Scoble added the town is now looking to collect post-pandemic data in order to better understand what has changed and what some of the new challenges and opportunities are for businesses. 

Partnering with InnoVisions and Associates, the Town of Strathmore intends to engage with local businesses through events such as Business Cafes, one on one interviews, and discussion groups. 

“The Town of Strathmore is committed to providing a business-friendly environment and opportunities for local businesses to thrive. We need comprehensive information about our local businesses to make informed decisions and support their success,” said Angela Groeneveld, economic sustainability and investment officer with the Town of Strathmore. “By creating an action plan that keeps existing businesses in the community, preserves jobs, and creates new employment opportunities, we will work with the business community and regional partners to understand the economic situation and come up with a plan to allocate resources effectively.”

The first Business Café was hosted with roughly 50 businesses in attendance at the Strathmore Station, July 6, to kick off the process and begin gathering data. The event also served as a networking opportunity for those in attendance.  

“We have put economic development on steroids, so to speak … we have got some top-notch economic development people from Southern Alberta working for us now so we are taking a fresh eyes approach to it,” said Scoble.

The results of the assessment are scheduled to come out this fall, likely in September or October, prior to the start of town budget discussions. The outputs of the assessment will contribute to identifying the economic needs of the upcoming year. 

Town hosts business café as part of business needs assessment

The Town of Strathmore, in partnership with InnoVisions & Associates hosted the first Business Café as part of the newly launched Business Needs Assessment, July 6, at the Strathmore Station. 

Local businesses and proprietors were invited to attend the event as an opportunity to network, as well as to discuss their current needs in order to facilitate growth.

“This is the beginning of what we call the business needs assessment. So, prior to COVID-19, during COVID-19, and now after COVID-19, we are experiencing a new economy for businesses unlike anything we have ever seen,” said Natalie Gibson, principal with InnoVisions & Associates, who led the business café. “What is important is we measure the pulse of the business community to say ‘what are your challenges, what are opportunities that we can maybe come alongside and help support your business to thrive and grow?’”

Gibson described meeting with local businesses as Phase 1 of the needs assessment. Going forward, the next steps will be to meet with business owners one on one, and as part of focus groups in order to follow up and gather more information. 

This fall, InnoVisions & Associates will release a report to the town which will indicate recommended priorities and what local businesses are looking for in order to grow. 

“Our goal is to look for resources or support services that may be local, maybe provincial partners or regional partners, like Community Futures. Then, we would work together with a 12-month action plan of who does what and when do we start,” explained Gibson. “Growing the community in a planned and sustainable way is easier said than done. The starting point is local businesses – 70 to 80 per cent of all new investment comes from the businesses, the job creation (and) the opportunities that are already here.”

Strathmore town council has established economic development as one of its current strategic priorities and is seeking to establish a better understanding of the local business ecosystem in town, and how to best support it. 

From listening to businesses in attendance at the café, Gibson said some of the primary comments made regarded workforces as a challenge in several respects, as well as a lacking in resource awareness that is available to businesses at a local, provincial, and federal level.

Further meetings, surveys and resources will be made available for businesses to participate in the needs assessment throughout the summer, prior to the release of the report come September or October.

By John Watson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jul 12, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from   Strathmore Times   Strathmore, Alberta

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