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Economic development continues amidst pandemic

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Despite several cancelled, suspended, and altered economic development projects due to the pandemic, The Town reported that significant steps have been made towards supporting economic development in the community.

“Economic development has immediately put boots on the ground for the community by focusing on those key objectives identified in the economic development strategy and we can prove a mark impact on the community,” said Scott Kovatch, Hinton’s economic development officer, during the regular council meeting on Sept. 15.

Over the past 14 months, administration, its partners, and the Hinton Region Economic Development Coalition (HREDC), have worked at delivering on the priorities of Hinton’s Economic Development Strategy through several projects outlined during the meeting. Kovatch noted that there is a risk of future inaction and that long term planning is essential for economic development success.

“Creating a sector opportunity profile is an opportunity for us to respond to the gap analysis that was put together as part of our strategy with our consultants. That will allow us to identify and capitalize on gaps that exist in our community,” Kovatch said.

Future priorities include a business retention and expansion program, a destination marketing fee, a housing strategy, and a proactive communications and marketing plan.

A business retention and expansion program will dedicate staff time to developing relationships and maintaining communications with local businesses. The goal is to reduce disengagement and risk of businesses flight from the community, and making the community aware of local support.

A destination marketing fee would be a game changer, Kovatch said, not only securing long term sustainability of growth in the tourism sector but also attracting new businesses and residents.

Addressing the significant demand for housing, Kovatch noted the community has not necessarily been proactive in completing and understanding the challenges and implementing an appropriate plan of action. It is important to implement a long term strategy after comprehensive consultation with developers, employers, and residents.

A due diligence report was completed on the McMillan lands prior to the recent public design charrette to create some type of housing development. A final report presentation on the McMillan Lands development will come to council in October and council will begin the process of designating the lands for that purpose. 

Administration is putting money aside for this project in the draft capital budget for council consideration in the budget process.

Finally, a proactive communication and marketing plan is very important for the success of economic development in Hinton, Kovatch added.

“Hinton has many strengths, and can leverage those being market ready in several instances. Small businesses are very strong, value chain opportunities exist here, there are a significant amount of lone eagles that can grow their businesses and operate independently, and there are opportunities for success stories through Hinton First, and in the near future we will be launching Hinton Success Stories which is a podcast pilot that will run for the next three months,” Kovatch said.

The town’s biggest challenge are budget implications when it comes to resourcing economic development initiatives. More needs to be done if the Town wants to be competitive in the national market place, Kovatch noted.

Under the first objective, improving investment readiness and proactively attracting targeted sectors, administration and HREDC developed a retail pitch deck to attract retail business.

This retail pitch deck circulated at the international conference of shopping centres (ICSC) and at the Edmonton franchise expo, which Kovatch said produced multiple site selector visits. A second pitch deck is geared towards resource supply chain investment.

Objective two is about business retention and expansion programming.

A COVID-19 business survey was used to develop an economic recovery support response strategy in support of the second objective.

A business retention attraction and expansion visitation strategy was also created and shared with partner organizations, and a second CARES grant application was approved.

Objective three is increasing tourism marketing and asset development.

Administration worked with Destination Alberta Northern Rockies to establish a group that markets the region and its assets. A meeting was organized to establish a business model for the Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) that would market the region.

“This particular DMO would function possibly via the funds derived from no taxpayer dollars and generating revenue from hotel guests. The fund would support product development, event development, as well as support marketing,” said Kovatch.

The first event was cancelled due to COVID-19 but was rescheduled for Sept. 16, and roughly 40 participants are expected. Those guests include the chamber board of directors, hoteliers, Travel Alberta, and Hinton Council.

The Town partnered with the Chamber on a Travel Alberta grant application focusing on visiting friends and relatives for the Cooperative Marketing Program..

The HREDC was established in 2015, and they were engaged to assist in developing an Economic Development Strategy in 2018.