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St. Albert businesses want more affordable space, survey says

The city says that it’s working to meet business’ demands, but some market conditions are out of their hands.
Some results of a survey measuring satisfaction levels of St. Albert businesses. SCREENSHOT/Photo

Availability of affordable and suitable spaces are top concerns for St. Albert business owners, according to a survey recently released by the city. 

The business satisfaction survey, conducted by Deloitte, found the top three areas for improvement based on priority and importance by St. Albert businesses are affordability of commercial space for rent or lease, availability of funding programs for business and property improvement, and availability of property for purchase or lease. 

Finding a reasonably priced location for a brick-and-mortar store was tough for Sawsen Abdellawi.

She started her skincare product business ABD Naturals six years ago, selling the creams she originally created to soothe her son’s eczema at farmers markets and from her online store. As sales increased, so did Abdellawi’s desire for a permanent retail location.

“My niche is mainly in St. Albert, so I felt I needed to get closer to them,” said Abdellawi, who lives in Edmonton. 

“To sell to businesses, if I say, 'I make this product in my kitchen,' then no one is going to listen," Abdellawi said. "But if I say, 'I have had the business for several years, and I have a brick-and-mortar location,' I find that’s when it gets me more credibility.”

Last year she found a spot in St. Albert Centre, but many places would not budge on prices that were out of her reach, she said.

For Mike Howes, owner of Sparklean Restoration, simply finding a space to expand his business is the issue. 

He said his current location on Riel Drive is “bursting at the seams,” as most offices in the building are shared between at least two people.

“We’re at 34 parking spots, which is enough for our company trucks, but then we’ve got 56 staff that show up,” he said. “We’re out of space.”

Howes said he has been looking to buy land to build a 20,000-square-foot building. There is vacant land Campbell Business Park, but Howes said none of it is for sale.

He pledged to the city he would be first in line to buy property in the proposed Lakeview Business District, but he’s concerned funding for the district won’t come fast enough.

If he can’t get shovels in the ground for a new building by fall 2025, he will be forced to consider moving the business, which has been running for 31 years, out of the city, he said. 

“If I can’t build a shop that’s 10,000 or 15,000 square feet bigger than what I’ve got right now, what am I supposed to do — limit my business? I want to keep growing. I’ve got two young sons that are going to want to take over this business and run it for another 31 years, which is is another reason we’d rather own this business," rather than paying rent, Howes said.

St. Albert a “great place to do business”

Michael Erickson, the city’s director of economic development, said vacancy rates are fairly healthy for retail at five per cent, but industrial rates are quite low at one per cent.

He believes Lakeview will ease the pressure on businesses that need industrial space, and said his department is working to help businesses with other priority areas, such as the need for more funding programs

However, he said some business priorities are out of the city’s control.

“When I look at commercial space for rent or lease, that one’s a little more challenging because that is outside of our hands,” he said.  “It’s a market condition, subject to supply-and-demand economics.”

The city also can’t control the costs of certain spaces, he said.

Other key findings from the report include that St. Albert businesses are satisfied with the city’s business-friendly policies, opportunities to expand into new markets, the quality of local products and services that meet their business needs, and the speed of locally available broadband internet.

A sample of 12 businesses found the majority were closing or downsizing to retire.

The report identified technology-based businesses as the industry most in need of growth. 

Overall satisfaction on a number of metrics, including availability of adequate housing, availability of skilled labour, availability of public transportation and availability of health and medical services has declined over the past four years, according to the survey.

However, Erickson said despite the drop, overall satisfaction on these metrics remains quite high, with a majority of businesses reporting they are satisfied.

“We look at the things that are doing well and the opportunities for us to focus our efforts. Where can we help the most, what are the things that are proving to be the biggest challenges for businesses?” he said

“I think the biggest thing for me is that we heard from businesses overwhelmingly that St. Albert is a great place to do business.”