Three months after the beginning of Alberta’s relaunch, the Okotoks Chamber is hard at work to keep its business community thriving.
There are no solid statistics on how local business is doing, but Okotoks and District Chamber of Commerce executive director Jayme Hall said there’s a different feel in the air.
“You can definitely feel the vibe in Okotoks is shifting to be better,” he said. “When I was at the office during the lockdown it was almost like a ghost town every day of the week there, and now when you head downtown it seems like it’s a little more lively.”
He said businesses and customers seem to be adjusting to the regulations in place and following physical distancing rules for going out to shop or dine, and people are more comfortable doing so.
As a Chamber, he said one of the organization’s focuses it to encourage people to shop locally, and in the wake of the pandemic it appears more people are visiting their hometown stores.
“I think people realized during the shutdown how important it actually is to get out there and shop locally,” said Hall. “I would love to try to find out how many more people are choosing to shop locally because they understand the value of that local dollar spent.”
Even more noticeable than people returning to their downtown shopping routines are the consumers opting to shop locally who haven’t before, he said.
Hall chalks it up to more people working from home rather than commuting into the city, and therefore choosing to access services, get groceries and eat out right in town.
Many people choose to raise their families in Okotoks because of its community feel, the extracurricular opportunities and great schools for children, but there’s a part of life in the town that commuters don’t see on a regular basis, he said.
“They’re on the road to the city in the morning and not back until after 6, and they miss that everyday charm we all know and love in Okotoks,” said Hall. “With the ability to work from home being more prominent than ever – and I think it will stay long past the pandemic – it allows those people to really discover the community of Okotoks and what it’s like on a daily basis.”
During this recovery period, as business picks up in town, the Chamber has kept busy with several projects, rethinking some of its typical fall events and figuring out what the business community needs – like conducting a survey in July to assess whether people were in favour of town-wide mandatory masking.
The first event on the schedule is the Chamber’s annual golf tournament, which will go ahead Sept. 3 at the Turner Valley Golf Club, though numbers are limited to 100 due to COVID-19 restrictions and rather than a shotgun start golfers will register for tee times between 12 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.
“I’m just shocked at how fast that is selling,” said Hall. “It’s going to look a little bit different for the golf tournament this year, but it’s still exciting that people want to get out there and support and have some fun.”
The annual Business Excellence Awards are likely to take on a new look this year as well. Typically held during Small Business Week in October, the awards gala shines a light on businesses, employees and not-for-profits that stand out for their contributions, customer service and overall performance and impact on the community.
“I don’t think we’re going to be doing an actual awards gala this year,” said Hall. “But they (the Business Excellence Awards committee) are brainstorming some ideas about what would it look like to celebrate all businesses, because I think everyone deserves a little pat on the back after we’ve made it through this year.”
The trade show, which usually takes place in April, was cancelled for 2020 because of COVID-19, but he said it may take place in September in a modified format, possibly outdoors.
“We know it’s going to look a little different but at least it’s something,” said Hall. “We’re trying to do everything we can to keep people talking, make connections, bring businesses together, all those types of components.”
Part of that has included Touchbase Tuesdays, casual calls business owners could tune into to discuss anything without a formal agenda, to feel the support of their peers, field ideas, meet new people and generally feel connected.
The Chamber has also been at work developing policies that could come forward to the Alberta Chamber of Commerce and the Town of Okotoks this fall, outlining a provincial and local film policy to help stimulate the economy with a different industry.
High River and Turner Valley are already hotbeds for filming in the area, and Hall said the Chamber wanted to put together something for the Province to consider in order to encourage more of the entertainment field to seek out Alberta for future projects.
In addition, a local policy is being drafted to help bring film to Okotoks as well.
“We want to encourage council to shift some of their thinking to make it easier and more accessible for movies and TV shows to get shot in Okotoks,” said Hall. “What an awesome way to stimulate the local economy and bring an industry to Okotoks that’s cool and exciting and unique, and not pandemic related.”
For more information visit. www.okotokschamber.ca.
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