Working With & Supporting Local Business
Can you name twenty or more local businesses? Do you frequently shop local and support your small business here in Spruce Grove? I’m sure most of us would love to support and shop local but it’s easier said than done.
The city works hard to attract and retain business in the Grove. However, that is just a small aspect to keeping and encouraging our business community to grow and thrive. We want a robust business base in Spruce Grove and there are a lot of ways we can work with them and help them thrive. What ideas do you have?
As a city, economic development is a priority; how we achieve this can be debated. But, in order for us to see our local business community (and therefore substantial commercial and industrial tax base) grow, we have to work with them, and really listen to what they’re telling us.
4 Recurring Themes
When I speak with local business owners, I hear 4 recurring themes:
1. Affordability– Spruce Grove has to remain competitive to attract and retain businesses. We are essential in competition with our surrounding communities including the ever growing Acheson area for industrial. They can cut their tax rate to a lower rate than ours and it’s not an easy solution to find ways to make it attractive to set up business in our city when all of us are trying to create the competitive edge. We have to ensure that balance– that businesses are contributing to our local economy but in order for them to do so, we have to make it not just affordable (with reasonable taxes) but they have to be profitable, too. There is a potential (rumour has it) big commercial tax increase coming and our business community is not happy about it. Where was the consultation and discussion? Why such a massive increase and why now?
2. Attractiveness– Spruce Grove is an attractive city but not all building are attractive. We have some real eyesores in the city that need to be torn down or renovated. We also have other buildings that could use a lot of sprucing up. People judge a business by its outward appearance so we have to work with them to develop the identity for Spruce Grove businesses. Great signage, incentives for building operators to renovate and improve their streetscapes and work with the people looking to build new building here, especially in our downtown. It’s hard enough to open a business, so let’s work with them as much as possible and take pride in the appearance of our buildings around the city.
3. Advertising– Businesses have to be able to market themselves or they’re basically dead in the water. An effective marketing strategy always includes a well thought out advertising plan. In smaller cities and towns, that is often with signage in and around the city. We have a very restrictive signage bylaw and cumbersome permit process compared to surrounding towns and cities. It’s a complaint I’ve heard at nearly every business I’ve spoken with. While we have a clean city and it’s not marked up with all sorts of signage, we’ve basically stripped it of everything that tells us what local businesses we have, what goods they’re selling, what sales are on and how to find them!. Surely there is a middle ground to be had here and the city should be removing barriers, unnecessary barriers and red tape and cumbersome processes and work with businesses, not against them. We have to remember that we are a driving community and not a strolling community. Not many of us drive to a destination, get out and take a stroll to check out other businesses in the area. We usually have a destination in mind (or several) and we hope in the car to get there. So what can we do to eliminate the barriers and help businesses market themselves locally?
4. Accessibility- With many of our businesses being south of the tracks, we have to think about access. There are no sidewalks on that side of the city, nor is there a very easy way for pedestrians to get across a major highway. Transit is on its way but when and how frequently? If we’re really wanting to make our businesses thrive in our community, we have to make it an attractive and accessible place to go, and not just an afterthought as the industrial area. There are other pieces to that part of town– Elks Hall, Henry Singer Sports Park, and at one time, the bowling alley! We need a plan and it needs to be accessible and user friendly.
Local Business Now and In the Future
When we create our master plans and put together our visions for Spruce Grove, part of that is attracting a commercial base to the Grove. But do any of us really have any idea how it’s put together? Is it the developers who work with the city to attract big box stores as anchor tenants? How do we involve our Chamber of Commerce? How do we consult with businesses who aren’t members of the Chamber? Do we speak with residents about what is needed- strip malls here and restaurants there…how does it all go down? We need details and we need to be a part of the conversation.
Business is Spruce Grove is a big issue and certainly I’ve not touched on much compared to what we need to discuss, but at least it’s a starting point for us and knowing that the new council has to work and engage with our business community more than ever.
These are the guys that have put their blood, sweat and tears into our community, supporting our local sports teams, sponsoring events, donating to charities- you name it, they’ve done it.
We can all make an effort to shop local and it can even start with an “explore local” concept. Drive around or if weather permits, walk around and see what businesses are out there. You might be surprised to find out the types of businesses that have set up shop here!
And let’s start the conversation. Let’s engage with the more than we ever have. We are growing and so our business community has to as well.