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Survey takes pulse of Sundre's business community

While past year has presented hurdles for some, others seeking to expand
MVT Jon Allan
Jon Allan is the Town of Sundre's economic development officer. Submitted photo

SUNDRE — Despite the many hurdles and challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Sundre-area business community’s heart seems to still be beating strong.

A survey that was recently conducted with dozens of local entrepreneurs to get a better feel of the pulse on the town’s economy revealed that while some business owners have indeed struggled, others are actually considering plans to expand.

Jon Allan, the municipality’s economic development officer, told council during the regular Oct. 4 meeting conducted by teleconference, that the business visitation and triage program was done to “determine the state of the local commercial economy and general satisfaction with conducting business in the Sundre area in order to understand how best to support local businesses.”

Further, Allan said the survey aimed to help identify specific sectors that might require particular support.

“Just like a triage would, but instead of a medical triage, it’s an economic triage,” he explained.

Overall, 69 interviews were completed out of an initial sample of 138 businesses in Sundre. The results have a high level of accuracy, with an 11.7 per cent margin of error at a 95 per cent confidence level, and thus statistically speaking represent the town’s business community, he said.

“A small handful of surveys were completed with businesses located in the county, primarily major companies of high impact on Sundre,” he said, adding so few county businesses were included that the results wouldn’t be noticeably skewed.   

"Really good outlook"

Presenting a quick glimpse at the types of businesses surveyed, Allan said most were locally owned and operated, with five or fewer employees.

“Based on the results we received, there’s a really good outlook for the community,” he said.

However, there unfortunately and predictably was a net negative retention of employees over the past 12 months as a result of the pandemic, he said.

Regardless, there remains a net positive about conducting business in Sundre, he added.

“Positively, we can see that there is a close to 100 per cent assurance that the number of employees at local firms will remain the same or grow in the coming months," he said.

Going on to present an analysis on business performance forecast, Allan said the metric was determined by combining five business performance questions, which considers the changes in staff, revenue and attitudes among businesses for an overall picture of the business climate.

“The result is we are on the expansion side of the grid, and it represents a very positive outlook moving forward," he said.

High satisfaction levels

Recapping the key performance indicators next, Allan informed council that “we were advised by the consultant that analyzed the result, that not many municipalities get into the 90s in terms of general satisfaction. They were actually quite surprised.”

Combining respondents who said they were either “very satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied,” the total was 93 per cent, he said.  

“That is very high," he said.

Several potential areas of service to make the community even more commercially competitive were also identified by the survey’s results, he said.   

Those surveyed indicated an overall very high level of satisfaction with factors such as support from residents and other businesses, 99 per cent and 92 per cent satisfied respectively; municipal zoning, 95 per cent; development charges and other planning fees, 91 per cent; as well as the development building permit process, 88 per cent.

Room for improvement

“Conversely, we have some room to achieve higher satisfaction in other areas,” he said.

Those concerns include municipal property taxes, 56 per cent satisfied; maintenance of roads, 46 per cent; availability of skilled labour, 45 per cent; availability of quality internet service to support business needs, 44 per cent; and availability of adequate housing, 43 per cent.

However, with the ongoing installation of high speed broadband internet infrastructure, at least that issue is poised to be resolved, he said.

Later discussing in greater detail the survey’s triage results, Allan said 19 businesses indicated they are considering plans to expand, while 13 businesses were thinking about either relocating, downsizing, selling, or closing.

Another 15 businesses reported not having needed to access any government supports throughout the pandemic.    

“We will be following up with these businesses in the near future to see how we can support them,” he said, concluding his presentation, which is available in full on the municipality’s website in the council’s agenda package for the Oct. 4 meeting.

Moving forward

Coun. Richard Warnock wondered how the survey might be included in the budgeting process, and whether any assistance might be offered to businesses that would benefit from support.

Allan said that would depend on what type of support council sought to deliver, and added potential programs that could cater to struggling businesses would first need to be identified to determine how much, if any, funding would be required.

“I wasn’t thinking of financially supporting them, I was thinking of building a plan to see what options there are,” said Warnock.

Coun. Todd Dalke called the report enlightening as well as positive, and wondered what is next for the economic development department regarding this file.

“How are we going to use this info moving forward into the next four years?” asked Dalke.

While certain areas of focus identified by respondents fall outside the purview of economic development, Allan said from the department’s perspective, “we are going to still have to parse through the results, and see where we can focus on items that may work, and then those items will have to be presented to council. We will try to do as much as possible that does not cost money.”

Council proceeded to unanimously carry a motion accepting the report for information.

Simon Ducatel

About the Author: Simon Ducatel

Simon Ducatel joined Mountain View Publishing in 2015 after working for the Vulcan Advocate since 2007, and graduated among the top of his class from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology's journalism program in 2006.
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