SUNDRE - While the downtown commercial vacancy rate stood higher at the end of the year than when it began, Sundre’s economic bellweather shows the town is doing well, says the town’s economic development officer.
The vacancy rate was an estimated 17 per cent in December compared to about 10 per cent at the beginning of the year.
It’s only one indicator, though, of the health of the community, said Jon Allan, the town’s economic development officer.
“Having a good year in both the commercial and industrial development from a building permit perspective acts as a great bellweather to the overall local economy,” he said.
By mid-December the town had issued development permits for nearly $3.8 million worth of construction in 2019.
The nearly year-end total includes about $1.4 million in commercial permits, $175,000 in institutional permits and $770,000 in residential permits.
It was an average year in all but residential development -- which was on the lower end -- compared to annual permit totals issued since 2015, said Allan.
Industrial development continued its upward swing, amounting to over $12 million between 2018 and 2019, up from basically zero in 2015 and 2017, he said.
“So basically whenever you have commercial and industrial development it means that there is enough commercial confidence by investors to spend money and take a risk putting dollars into whether it be brand new developments or expansion of existing business,” he said.
That development creates jobs that Allan said hopefully will lead to more residents which will then hopefully lead to more houses.
“You’re basically growing the base, the economic base and the tax base for the community to invest in itself as well. So the economic base supports the well- being of everybody in town. And the tax base supports the administration of our community by being able to provide the funds needed to add to community services.”
The spike in downtown commercial vacancies is “merely a market correction,” he said.
“That’s what happens sometimes when businesses close down because of circumstance. We’ve had a couple businesses close down because of the distance that the owners drove at the time and they were only open a couple days of the week.”
However, he said he is aware of new businesses opening in the new year, including a clothing store next to Heart n Hand Creations.
“And there are other entrepreneurs that have been in touch with us about starting a business. So we are confident that by the summertime, or basically within six months' time we will see an improvement in our businesses with vacancies downtown,” said Allan.
While the province’s economy is still in transition when it comes to the downturned oil and gas industry, Allan said Sundre is in a very fortunate situation.
“We are not a one-horse town so to speak, centred only in agriculture or centred only in oil and gas. We have a very dynamic economy, especially relative to our size. We have forestry and oil and gas, plus the tourism, plus even a public sector presence in this community is great. So we are very fortunate to have the type of economy that we have in our area here,” he said.
He said the cannabis industry was welcomed because of how it could help diversify the economy with good-paying jobs.
Candre’s initial estimates were to employ up to 100 people at full build-out.
Keep in mind, he said, that while the town’s building permits are a bellweather, it does not take into account “all the extra activity happening on the other side of the street so to speak, in Mountain View County.”
Nor does it take into account another cannabis production facility in development 10 minutes up the road in Clearwater County.
“And so we are the service hub of this community but they’re technically located in another county,” he said.