Blackfalds has not lost its swagger.
A recent survey showed three-quarters of Blackfalds businesses said it was a good or excellent place to operate.
Businesses also liked their location, with 87 per cent saying Blackfalds’ location was good or excellent. Another 74 per cent said their access to markets from there was good or excellent.
The online survey that ran this past spring got responses from 103 businesses who gave the town high marks in most categories. It was done as part of the town’s 2015-2020 economic development plan.
Mayor Richard Poole was pleased with the report, which he said council had only just seen and had not reviewed in any depth yet.
“I think one of the things we’re finding is that with passing the benchmark of a population of 10,000 and growing, we’re more able to recognize the fact that local businesses are able to provide the services that we need within our town.
“And there are a lot more coming in and it just keeps growing and feeding itself.”
A new McDonalds is opening up, which will likely lead to other restaurants following suit.
“We have different services that are coming. It’s just one thing leads to another and it’s all based on our population and the fact where we’ve reached a benchmark where we can support services.”
Blackfalds’ growth has slowed a little since it went on a five-year run between 2011 and 2016 that saw its population soar by 48 per cent to 9,238.
In early 2017, Statistics Canada dubbed it No. 1 among the 25 fastest-growing communities in all of Canada with a population over 5,000 outside a metropolitan area.
The town broke the 10,000 population mark the following year.
Of those who responded to the recent survey, less than 10 per cent expected to be laying off any workers. Just over 20 per cent planned to be hiring and the others planned to maintain their payroll at current levels. Four out of 10 companies expected their workload and demand to increase.
Asked what the top issues facing businesses were, the cost of lease space came out on top, with almost one-third picking that first. Two-thirds of respondents said lease costs were fair or poor.
Taxes and cost of advertising were picked as top issues by just over 20 per cent of respondents.
About two-thirds of those surveyed agreed it was difficult to find and retain staff in Blackfalds. Fifty-eight per cent said local labour costs were good or excellent.
Poole believes some of the hiring difficulties have to do with the town’s past as a smaller community.
“I think one of the issues is that a lot of people just aren’t looking within our community to find full-time work,” he said.
The town also has a very young population, which means many people are still home with young children. Another factor is that many new arrivals have jobs lined up and are not looking for work.
Poole believes there is a growing awareness that there are many opportunities in town, especially for those looking for part-time work to augment family incomes or get a start in the work world.
There was some ambivalence about municipal and provincial taxes. One-third described them as good or excellent, with the remainder classifying them as fair or poor.
Poole said they plan to take a close look at the survey to fine tune their economic development approach.