As the province slowly begins to relax some of its COVID-19 regulations, the plight of Alberta's small businesses has been front and centre, propelled into the spotlight by owners who – having had enough of watching big box stores rake in record profits – decided to reopen early or in protest of what they see as unfair rules.
Though some may disapprove of their actions, most of us can empathize with the pain those business owners have put up with over the past 11 months. Many of them have hung on thanks to funding from the provincial and federal government, and there have been some early positive signs that St. Albert's business sector remains intact for now. With business licence renewals closing at the end of January, the city counted 2,602 renewals, down marginally from the 2,681 it counted in 2020.
But as Michael Erickson, the city's acting director of economic development, told the Gazette, business licences don't tell the whole story.
Some sectors have been hit worse than others this past year – retail in particular comes to mind – while others have made major pivots, been forced to adopt food delivery apps that cut into tight margins, or put time and money into e-commerce in order to stay afloat. Some within the financial and accounting sector have found themselves quite busy this past year. Then there's those government dollars and the looming question of what happens when provincial and federal funding runs out.
No, we're not out of the woods yet, though we're starting to see some sunlight through the trees. The city enjoyed a great year of construction activity, with values of construction hitting $200 million – 40 per cent higher than 2019. That's thanks in large part to Uline Shipping Supplies' decision to locate its $27 million, 600,000-square-foot distribution facility in St. Albert. There were also high-profile rebuilds of public buildings such as Fire Hall #1 and Paul Kane High School, which together added $45 million in construction values.
Construction values are important because they mean possible jobs and future economic activity – encouraging signs for when we emerge from this pandemic. Though much of that was tied to these big-ticket projects last year, it's still an encouraging sign. City council's recent decision to service land west of Ray Gibbon Drive also helps shore up our long-term future prospects by bringing the development of Lakeview Business District and the Rohit residential development a step closer. And down the road west of St. Albert we reported more good news with Sturgeon County’s announcement that provincial funding would finally get the long-awaited servicing of Villeneuve Airport underway. Creating a second flight hub for the Edmonton region will pay big dividends in the years to come.
So it isn't all doom and gloom in our business sector right now. Our small business community is going to need our continued support to get it through current pandemic restrictions but, the future is finally starting to look a lot brighter.