Plunging 15 spots since last year, Prince Albert is now ranked the country’s 27th best small city for entrepreneurs.
“I’m a little worried about next year, because ... there haven’t been that many people coming in inquiring about starting a business,” Prince Albert and District Community Futures general manager George Vass said.
“I don’t know what the reason for it is,” he added. “Maybe we had a good run in 2012, but if it’s going to taper off it shouldn’t taper off that drastically, in my mind.”
The ranking drop was recorded in a study by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business that the Financial Post commissioned.
Prince Albert was listed among cities with a population between 25,000 and about 150,000.
Prince Albert and District Chamber of Commerce CEO Merle Lacert said that the city’s plummeting rank deserves attention.
Last week, the chamber presented a list of recommendations to city council regarding taxation, focused on making the city more competitive in attracting business.
“Our province has seen great growth this year,” Lacert said, adding that Saskatoon is reporting a 5.2 per cent growth.
“Prince Albert has always traditionally been a little bit less, so we definitely think … that we need stronger efforts so that Prince Albert can get a larger share of that growth.”
A recent barrier in Prince Albert might have been a lack of economic development and planning director for a significant period of time, following Joan Corneil’s abrupt removal from the position last year.
Not having someone in place “handicaps anybody,” Vass said. “They want to know what’s going on here, and they might go on to somewhere else … I’m not saying that is the be all and end all, but it’s a contributing factor.”
Community Futures is still maintaining their average of between 15 and 20 small business loans per year, but with the recent drop in inquiries, next year might not bode as well, he said.
One significant barrier in Prince Albert is the cost of renting commercial space, he said.
“You’re looking at anywhere from 14 to 20-odd dollars a square foot, and I sometimes wonder how these merchants make it at that kind of cost, because that doesn’t include triple-net (leases),” he said, adding that this can push costs to $30 per square foot, plus.
“The little guys -- the ones who are starting out -- it’s feast or famine, because they have all these high costs just to get started,” Vass said.
“I kind of worry about some of my clients, but they seem to be working out OK.”
Now capping off their first year as a city council, the city’s elected officials have yet to really get their heads wrapped around what needs to be done to attract economic development, Coun. Martin Ring said.
“We have to get our economic development plan in place and start to see real growth in our industrial and our business base in our city.”
Maybe we had a good run in 2012, but if it’s going to taper off it shouldn’t taper off that drastically, in my mind. George Vass
With Coun. Rick Orr as chairman, the city recently struck an advisory committee mandated with attracting economic activity to Prince Albert.
“They’re explaining to us the types of incentives that the city needs to foster development and help existing businesses within the community look at future development and grow their business,” Orr said.
“In Saskatoon there’s a huge boom going on, and we’re not really getting all of that … We have to do a better job of promoting our region, our city, and see if we can’t attract some of this business.’
On Friday morning, the grand opening of Highway 11’s twinning between Prince Albert and Saskatoon was scheduled to take place – something Orr notes as a step in the right direction.
It will better position Prince Albert to become a “marshaling centre for northern resource industry,” he said.
“Our community hasn’t had tons of investment compared to the rest of the province, and what we think we need to do is go out there and foster and advertise and show people what we’ve got,” Orr said. “I think we’ve been a missed opportunity.”
Looking to the future, Vass said that the key thing Prince Albert needs is a significant manufacturing plant, such as the long-promised reopening of the Prince Albert Pulp Mill.
Such large-scale efforts have a significant trickle down effect, creating offshoot jobs in the area.
“We still need foreign investment in this province more than anything else, because you can’t do the big things that other provinces are doing unless you have the infrastructure here,” he said.
“Really, it’s looking for that big industry player to hit the pavement running -- that’s the one we’re really looking for,” Ring said.
“When you’ve got people working, they have money to spend on your facilities -- it’s just what makes a community a community.”
The Financial Post lists Lloydminster as the best small city for entrepreneurs, with Red Deer, Leamington, Grand Prairie and Riviére-du-Lomp filling out the top five.
Greater Calgary tops the list of large cities, followed by Saskatoon, Greater Toronto, Greater Edmonton and Sherbrooke.
Click HERE for the full Financial Post report.
- With notes by Matt Gardner