By Collin Gallant
Alberta Newspaper Group
If you’re business owner in southeast Alberta, a new survey wants to know what’s holding up expansion plans.
A group of 80 volunteers will fan out to 500 businesses for personal interviews over the next three weeks to query them on a variety of topics, such as workforce levels, hiring intentions, as well as hurdles and tactics for recruitment efforts and general information.
Last spring, Invest Southeast Alberta was formed to undertake a study and build a strategy to support business retention and expansion efforts, as well as survey labour needs and landscape in order to fill an expected 1,000 positions coming from new major plants.
That also brought into focus potential pitfalls of adding staff, or the question of how to best capitalize on the economic boost.
“This is something that business owners need to be involved in,” said Donovan Bellamy, owner of Dynamic Industrial solutions, a fabrication and construction contractor that focuses on major projects and oil patch construction.
“We need to have a unified voice at the table for recommendations to be heard and acted upon by governments and agencies.”
That could include training opportunities, new programs, or provide singles to private industry on gaps or opportunities that are forming.
Sandra Blythe, a business support officer with the City of Medicine Hat, said the report will led to a number of “actionable items.”
“The survey is quite comprehensive, business, labour, quality of life, and a number of sections to give us a good understanding for us to see the community, what’s working and what’s not,” she said.
“This is more about the business environment. What will come out of this is (finding) barriers to retaining or attracting employees.”
“This isn’t just a report. Once we identify what the priorities are … the overarching themes … it’s our job to identify how we address that.”
The survey should take about 25 minutes to complete, depending on the depth of the responses given, and answers are confidential.
They will be collated and forwarded to working groups made up of private and public actors, with strategies expected to follow.
About 500 in-person visits will take place with major employers, and invitation to take an online survey will be sent to about 4,000 business entities that operate in Medicine Hat, Cypress County, Bow Island and the County of Forty Mile.
Those rural municipalities are represented by the Verge Economic Development, which is a founding partner in the BREWD effort, along with the City of Medicine Hat, several agencies based in Medicine Hat, Medicine Hat College, and several major employees companies.
Those include Aurora Cannabis, Hut 8 Cryptocurrency, Red Hat Co-op, as well as smaller business owners.
Chris Hellman, a former chamber of commerce president and franchise business owner, said he suspects “red tape and tax-related” issues will be top of mind for retailers and service providers but also labour costs and retention.
However, the scope of the survey, including questions on skills training, general supply chain and sales networks, as well as general business costs, could be enlightening.
“It may not be something imminent, but we’re gathering (the information) to understand it better,” he said, giving the example of lease rates.
Governments can’t set rental rates, he said, but the report could signal to developers and landlords the state of the rental landscape. And the effort could create dialogue between business owners on potential partnerships of sales agreements, potentially leading to a knock on effects and bolstering activity.
John Rondermond is the most recent past president of the Medicine Hat Construction Association and said the goal is to get things moving forward.
“To grow right now is very, very challenging,” said Rondermond. “Our biggest concern is the general economy, and that’s probably everybody.”
Curtis Gouw, who owns and operates Apple Drugs in Bow Island, is also a founding partner.
“We need to know what we’re good at and what we’re not so good at,” he told the audience on Monday’s launch.