By Stan Ashbee
Sunny South News
Ask anyone and they’ll tell you small businesses in small communities or urban centres are the backbone to keeping the cogs of commerce in gear, while moving forward.
Small businesses are also a vital part of keeping it local — in small, medium or large markets.
As Canada celebrates Small Business Week this week, the chamber of commerce in Coaldale and Picture Butte helps ensure small business keeps booming in their respective municipalities.
“I think they’re very important for a couple of reasons. Reason number one — because they’re local and they’re in the community.”
Big Box stores often are not. Yes, they draw some employees from the community but they don’t have that connection. Second of all, I think they’re often a driver for innovation, for service and improvement in the local community, not just taking profit out,” said Pieter van Ewijk, general manager of one of Picture Butte and area’s tourist attractions — Coyote Flats Pioneer Village, which is operated by the Prairie Tractor and Engine Museum Society. He is also office administrator of the Picture Butte and District Chamber of Commerce.
One of the things Coyote Flats is trying to do, van Ewijk noted, is to buy local, as much as possible.
“Prices are usually competitive and even if they’re not, we try to support the local community. The local community supports us very well, as well,” he added.
Tourism also helps boost a community’s local products and services.
“If we’re able to bring tourists in — we’ve done a lot more advertising for our organization this year — inevitably, they’re going to say, ‘where can we stay tonight?’ or ‘where can we eat?’ It is very important,” said van Ewijk.
What is vitally important, van Ewijk explained, is the coming together of small businesses to discuss the future, which the chamber of commerce provides the vehicle in which to promote the community and its small businesses.
“That’s one thing small businesses often lack. It’s an owner with a few employees perhaps and it’s hard to have a voice. If a number of those businesses get together and decide, what for them are some of the key actions, then the chamber of commerce can lend support. We don’t usually do a lot of financial support perse, but certainly in letter writing, pushing for legislation and those types of things,” he said.
Once again this year, van Ewijk added, the chamber will be putting on the town’s annual Midnight Madness on Dec. 2.
“We’ve got some ice time booked with the town. The meetings are just starting, so I don’t know how many businesses will participate. Last year, I understood, was quite a well-attended event,” he said.
Coaldale and District Chamber of Commerce President Everett Duerksen said small business drives the commerce with membership.
“Sitting around the table — probably 90 per cent of members are and the people that attend meetings and functions would be small business owners or a representative of them,” he noted at a regular monthly chamber meeting held Oct. 12.
It really makes up an association, so to speak, said Duerksen, who also has a small business — EJD/Machacek, chartered professional accountants in Coaldale.
“That’s why we exist. On the negative side of that, I suppose, we exist because it is small business and they need to have a voice they don’t otherwise get. Big business is able to have its own voice and are a little bit louder. Small business doesn’t usually get that chance. With chambers and even up to the Alberta chamber level and the Canadian chamber level — we get to be part of a group that is our bigger voice for us,” he explained.
From Duerksen’s perspective, small business drives Coaldale.
“We have some big businesses around and we welcome them here but small businesses are the ones eating, living and breathing in our community and participating in our not-for-profits and doing all that different stuff,” he added.
With big business, Duerksen said, it’s valuable and there’s a lot of big innovation that comes from larger businesses.
“In the community and the get things done level — we rely on small businesses to make that happen and they really have a tough go of it,” he said.
According to Duerksen, for somebody to start up a small business, the learning and the resources are just not there.
“They don’t always have the keys. There’s groups around that will help do that but I see, with clients in particular, it’s tough to start up a small business. You’ve got to deal with a lot of things. You have no idea what they even are until somebody phones and says ‘you didn’t do this,’” he joked.
Small business struggles a lot, Duerksen said.
“I think in Coaldale as well but we’ve got a good base, it seems. Of people that have been here a long time and have cut their teeth over how many years of doing different things and trying different things. That’s probably the key — it’s a changing time, always. Small business has to adapt and it’s tough to do. I think most people don’t know how to that, me included,” he said. “It’s very difficult.”