Business people unite PDF Print
Local Content - Local News
Written by Marcia Love   
Wednesday, 29 February 2012 22:20

When local businessmen and women gathered at The Star Cafe & Grill earlier this week, they had one goal in mind – promoting economic growth in the community.
About 45 members of the business community attended a business retention and expansion strategy meeting on February 27. The session, which was sponsored by the Maple Creek Chamber of Commerce and the town, gave business people the opportunity to provide feedback for developing a business retention and expansion strategy.
Royce Pettyjohn, community and economic development officer and co-ordinator of the Main Street Program, said the community needs to find a way to reinvent itself to grow.
While economic growth was a focus as the town was settled and developed over the decades, it has now become less of a priority, he said.
"We've sort of gone from having a vision of building a better life for ourselves to making do during difficult times," Pettyjohn explained. "But now... I think we need to look at not encouraging our young people to leave to build a better life, but building a better life for ourselves within the community that we have."
Business retention and expansion was identified by Enterprise Saskatchewan as an important initiative for the region. As a result, the initiative has been undertaken by the Southwest Enterprise Region.
The plan is intended to promote an environment within Maple Creek that will not only create economic growth, but also attract new businesses and investments to the town. It will complement the work to be undertaken through the Main Street Program.
The session was facilitated by Kent Dubreuil, economic development officer for the Town of Biggar, who has worked on the West Central Enterprise Region's business retention and expansion project.
Dubreuil outlined the problems encountered by smaller communities in economic development, such as the competition it faces in nearby cities. He noted local businesses can look at nearby urban centres as a problem or an opportunity to attract business by creating an energy that makes people think positively about Maple Creek.
While the business community has encouraged residents to shop locally, Dubreuil said it needs to continue advising people to support hometown businesses. In its discussions, the group identified a number of critical issues that hinder economic growth in the community. These included limited hours of operation for local businesses, the absence of a dentist and shortage of doctors and lack of entertainment to keep people in the community. All of these factors were found to contribute to residents and customers being driven to live and shop elsewhere.
Tourism was identified as an area where the business community could see greater benefits.
Chamber of Commerce President Tina Cresswell said businesses would like to draw more customers from tourists visiting Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park as well as retail and medical tourism.
"Tourism is not only the people who come through in the summer time," she explained. "You've also got people coming into town to get services from the vets and from the hospital."
While there were many areas where business owners felt the community could improve, there were also a number of ways in which the group noted the town shines. Exceptional customer service, heritage preservation and a willingness to give back to the community through volunteerism were identified.
"The ability to get personalized service in town... when you need it is a very large strength," Cresswell stated. "The availability of goods and services in this community for a community of this size is quite awesome."
The chamber will be establishing a committee of representatives from the town, business district and community to further develop a business retention and expansion plan.
"You don't have to be a member of the chamber, you just have to have an abiding interest in seeing Maple Creek thrive," Cresswell said.
The committee will promote businesses to work together to achieve its retention and expansion goal.
"It's realizing that although we may be in competition with each other, we have to collaborate and help each other out," Cresswell stated. "It's keeping as many shoppers and business dollars in town as possible."
Mayor Barry Rudd said communication will be the key to business retention and expansion.
"It starts with the businesses, and then the businesses with the customers and the customers with the businesses," he explained. "Everybody can sit at the coffee shop and complain, but how will the businesses know what they’re concerned about if they don't tell them?"
Open communication will eliminate road blocks in the process, such as negativity, Rudd said.
"It's people that are used to not having (growth) and they're satisfied with what they have," he stated. "It's the fear that it'll cost more money. Everybody's worried about cost, but it doesn't work that way. Economic development will keep the costs down."

 
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