Town's business sector continues strong growth

Okotoks: Town targeting new industries to attract

By: Don Patterson

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Feb 05, 2014 06:00 am

Ridley’s Cycle co-owner Ron Uhlenberg adjusts the breaks on a Specialized Allez Sport road bike. Ridley’s Cycle was one of a number of new businesses to open in Okotoks in 2013, continuing a strong growth trend.
Ridley’s Cycle co-owner Ron Uhlenberg adjusts the breaks on a Specialized Allez Sport road bike. Ridley’s Cycle was one of a number of new businesses to open in Okotoks in 2013, continuing a strong growth trend.
Tammy Rollie/OWW

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With a young population, a high growth rate and a good business environment, the owners of a long-time Calgary cycling store decided 2013 was the year to finally set up shop in town.

Ron Uhlenberg, Okotoks resident and co-owner of Ridley’s Cycle, said they have considered opening a location in town for several years. Many of his customers travelled all the way from Okotoks to the store’s Kensington location and he often brought bikes back and forth for people in town.

After several years of looking at establishing an Okotoks location, Uhlenberg and his business partner Kristyn Hall took the plunge in spring 2013.

“The timing was right, the population has grown, the demographic of Okotoks being a relatively young community and a very active, vibrant community,” said Uhlenberg.

The cycling duo aren’t alone.

Okotoks’ business sector continued to grow in 2013 as the Town’s economic development office saw a 3.5 per cent increase in the number of business licenses issued last year. In total, there were 1,736 licenses registered with the Town in 2013, up from 1,675 in 2012.

As well, the number of businesses operating out of Okotoks rose by five per cent.

The number of storefront businesses with a physical location rose 7.9 per cent in 2013 to 541. Meanwhile, the number of home-based businesses in Okotoks grew to 650 in 2013, up by 2.4 per cent over 2012.

Uhlenberg said the town has a good business environment.

He said the business is also attracting customers from the south side of Calgary who don’t want to have to drive through the city to get to the other location in the city’s Kensington area.

One Okotoks developer is seeing interest from other Calgary companies interested in following Uhlenberg’s move to Okotoks.

Camshay Developments is building a 10 bay building in the Okotoks business park.

Co-owner Carla McArthur said they expect the building could be full by the end of summer.

The building is still under construction, but she said they have received a number of inquiries about locating in it, including some from Calgary businesses looking at moving to Okotoks.

“A handful of the inquiries we’ve had have definitely been people who live that are in the city but wanting to move their business here,” said McArthur.

She said people are attracted by the quality of life in the community.

“The community is very much supportive of its own, so you know if you’re bringing your business here you know you’re going to get the support of your neighbours and the community,” she said.

Once the annexation process is complete and the Town has solved its long-term water woes, McArthur predicted Okotoks’ business sector will see significant growth.

“You’re seeing 3.5 per cent this year, I think you can easily see a six to nine per cent increase between now and then,” she said.

The head of the Town’s economic development team said last year’s growth continues a trend positive Okotoks has seen for several years.

“In the last seven years we’ve had a 30 per cent increase in new businesses, and this is just those in town,” said Shane Olson.

While some Okotoks businesses have closed in recent years, he said it’s not much different than in other communities.

Of all the businesses that opened in the last two years, he said 30 per cent have closed. He said this is in line with national statistics from Industry Canada.

“Knowing that we’re on par with industry standards it makes me feel pretty good, there’s always going to be closures for different reasons,” he said.

In the mean time, he said the Town is shifting course with its economic development efforts to work to target specific areas of business, including the technology sector.

He said the Town also needs more space for businesses to locate as the vacancy rate for business space remains low.

“There’s more demand than supply,” he said. “I’ve seen that in the month of January, we had a number of very good industrial inquiries and we don’t have enough buildings to accommodate them all.”

License fee deadline

All companies operating in Okotoks should have their 2014 business licenses by now.

The deadline for businesses to have their license in place passed on Jan. 31.

Any business operating in the Town of Okotoks is required to have a license, whether it’s located within Okotoks or not and is located in a retail store or is home-based.

“Anybody that’s undertaking work in the town of Okotoks, that’s doing a service, yes,” said Olson. “If they’re working from home and they do not have clients in town, they would still require a license because they are physically located within our boundary.”

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