The next twelve months through the eyes of the Whitecourt Economic Development Committee
The Economic Development Committee’s priorities for 2022 were set at Whitecourt City Council’s first meeting of the year, which was held on January 10. The current top three priorities are set from January to March. The first is the implementation of business retention and expansion strategies, which includes supporting an application for Government of Alberta Business Support Network grant funding.
The second was Encouraging Investment Attraction in Key Sectors. A specific idea for this is the development of a webpage called Starting a Business in Whitecourt, which will feature simple steps, such as how to get a permit, and other resources to help aspiring small business entrepreneurs. . With a timeline for March, the current third priority was to encourage partnerships and initiatives that advance skills attraction and improve the education and training landscape. “These are some of the things we really want to get started right now,” said Economic Development Committee Chair Rand Richards.
Each strategy has been detailed with action plans and implementation options. Under business retention and expansion, the committee listed eleven action plans that included exploring a business licensing system to help identify potential benefits, challenges and barriers for businesses. Another idea is to implement a business satisfaction survey to collect comparative data on stakeholder satisfaction levels each year.
In terms of encouraging partnerships and advancing skills attraction, the Economic Development Committee has listed six action plans for 2022. The creation of a task force with business, industry, training support organizations and post-secondary institutions was one of the ideas listed. The working group would help increase opportunities and help identify synergies to support a skilled local workforce to help meet demands. Another idea was to create a list of in-demand occupations that would highlight the skilled labor needs of area employers. Such a list would make it possible to inform future employees of the skills in high demand for the region and to accelerate the attraction of qualified workers.
The committee listed fifteen action plans as part of the investment attraction strategy. Ideas include a full-page and feature in the Invest Alberta publication, a targeted social media campaign about living in Whitecourt and what it’s like to be a resident, and a virtual community tour to help recruit employees and new residents in the community.
Establishing contacts with key players in the Edmonton regional hydrogen hub, semi-annual meetings with Economic Development and Trade, launching “The Collective” co-working space pilot project with Community Futures Yellowhead East and organizing one-on-one sessions with key players in the oil and gas sector are also ideas. They also suggested the creation of a database of commercial land and buildings available in Whitecourt and the ‘Starting a Business in Whitecourt’ web page.
Economic development manager Rhonda Hough said the webpage would function as a one-stop shop. It would provide information from the early stages of starting a business and help point those in need of a business plan in the right direction. “He breaks it down into a simpler plan for entrepreneurs who are opening new businesses. Then he goes to the permitting stage, so they know what permits are available. We walk them through each of these steps, so that they are not alone.
She explained that it would also guide people to the various resources available to use, including those from Community Futures Yellowhead East. “It’s also a great place for businesses that are established to learn a bit about any changes, policies, or permits that exist in the community,” Hough explained. Both home businesses and physical locations can use the help of the web page.
Coming later in the year, the group is looking to focus on trade shows, both local and provincial, to boost marketing and promotional opportunities, as restrictions allow. Richards said they “focus on how we can celebrate our community and promote it to residents of other communities.” She said they were also focusing on downtown and “how we can revitalize it to increase foot traffic, investment (and) tourism in our community.” Council voted unanimously to adopt the 2022 Economic Development Strategic Plan.