Throughout 2018 the town of Cochrane has welcomed new businesses as they open their doors while watching others lock up shop for good.
While the wave of economic uncertainty continues to roll, Bill Popplewell, President of the Cochrane and District Chamber of Commerce is remaining optimistic as we say hello to 2019. "When I look at 2018 there's ups and downs and I know there are borderline businesses and people struggling but when I also look at 2018 and the amount of growth that is going on in town, there is somewhere probably between 50 to 70 million dollars of private corporate money that is building things in town. And when you turn around and look at that, you have to think they all must know something because they're doing it on the premise that the economy is going to change because otherwise, they wouldn't be spending the money."
Stating 2018 has been one of the first years in the past few where he is actually seeing businesses spend money whether, on expansion or opening up storefronts, Popplewell takes that as a positive sign. "The last three years no one has been spending, so to be doing what they're doing, does show an indication in the economy that some parts are good."
Popplewell does anticipate that improvements likely won't be seen until mid-year though, once we know what is happening with leadership at both the provincial and federal government level. "I don't think things will change until we get through the provincial and federal election where we could see a change at both levels of government."
The tough times are not over yet, says Popplewell, as the federal carbon tax rolls out adding more pressure to businesses especially those already feeling the squeeze. "There is a lot of unknown; no one really knows because you can't track carbon tax and there is a lot of people still dealing with the minimum wage. We aren't through that whole process yet as every individual small business tries to figure out how to get through it."
The other conversation Popplewell has heard in his travels is some people's belief that chain businesses are responsible for killing off our local shops. "Right at the moment, I don't know if it's the chains that are doing that to everybody. Anytime we're going to see a big store or changes, you have to be able to figure out how you're going to survive the six to nine months or even up to the first year of them coming here especially if you're a direct competitor with them. Somehow you've got to be able to adjust what you're selling, the speciality things you can work on, and what can you sell that doesn't have to go head to head with any of the big companies."
The one improvement or change Popplewell would like to see is more collaboration between business owners, especially those sharing the same shopping complex. "Each of the little shopping centres has to find a way with the other people within their shopping centre area to share their customers and to steer those people. A lot of people don't like to do that but it will probably be a case of survival in the long run."
Over the past couple of years the Chamber's membership has continued to grow, states Popplewell; but even with seeing steady growth, they too, are looking at ways to improve. "If you look back over the last two and a half years we are just seeing things go up and up. Now part of that is based on growth in town and new businesses, we are not losing a lot of members as long as they are employed and things are going well. We have increased by probably 70 members over the last two and a half years but the whole economy makes us look at things differently too. We are looking at rebranding and taking a really hard look at what our customers want...no different than a business trying to figure out their customer we are trying to figure out what the businesses will come out to, the timeframe, and the cost parameter."
Lunch 'n Learn and after-hours networking events will continue throughout 2019 along with the annual Cochrane Chamber Trade Show (May 4 and 5) which already has quite a bit of interest. The first Lunch 'n Learn is scheduled for January 16, 2019, and will be hosted by John Hufnagel the President and General Manager of the 2018 Grey Cup Champion's the Calgary Stampeders. The two-hour event is scheduled from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm at the Lions Event Centre and both members and non-members are asked to pre-register HERE.
In the end, Popplewell says the major thing businesses need to see going forward is support from both provincial and federal levels as well as encouragement from our local level to continue to shop and support the businesses within our own community.