Monday, 11 March 2013 14:39

Bow Island officials get business advice from MHC

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Jon Sookochoff and Miranda Davies both with Medicine hat College are leading an applied research project with Mount Royal University focusing on business retention and expansion in Medicine Hat, Bow Island, Brooks, Oyen and Hanna. Jon Sookochoff and Miranda Davies both with Medicine hat College are leading an applied research project with Mount Royal University focusing on business retention and expansion in Medicine Hat, Bow Island, Brooks, Oyen and Hanna. Photo submitted

Town and Chamber of Commerce officials in Bow Island have a better understanding of the supports small businesses in their communities are looking for thanks to a research project done by the Medicine Hat College’s business department.

At the end of February, officials with the college shared the results of a business retention and expansion survey done last fall. The work is part of a larger applied research project in conjunction with Mount Royal University, Portage College and Lakeland College. A similar survey was done in Medicine Hat last year, and will also be completed in Brooks this spring and the Oyen and Hanna communities by the fall.
A small business conference in Bow Island Feb. 26 was a chance to share the survey results and offer ideas to the Chamber and Town as to how they can support their businesses moving forward.
“It’s been fascinating for us,” says Miranda Davies, a lead researcher and a business instructor at MHC.
This is the first time the college’s business department has been involved in applied research. It means both Davies and fellow researcher Jon Sookochoff, will have to write papers, as well as business students have gained valuable experience in how to conduct surveys and do their own research.
“We’ve been using the surveys and results in our classes so the students are getting  taste of research,” explains Davies. “We also have a lot of economic players coming to talk to us and we’re introducing them to our students.”
A few of the students have even been hired because of the connections made with local businesses.
Not only does the research benefit students and MHC, but also the communities involved and their businesses.
In Bow Island, economic development agencies including the Chamber, Palliser Economic Development and town council were able help draft the survey questions they wanted to ask their businesses. That took place last fall. Then students from the college and lead researchers surveyed local businesses and made themselves available in a few places to encourage participation. Overall, 23 businesses filled out the survey, or about 15 per cent.
Once the data was collected, officials from Mount Royal University helped analyze it. Then that data was presented back to the community at the end of February. There was also a financial analyst sharing insights along with a social media expert.
Davies said the conference included Town officials as well as six businesses. It was a “good start to the conversation.”
Some of the more interesting items that came out of the survey included that about 45 per cent of the businesses are home-based (10 respondents) which means likely only one person is working.
“In the Canadian economy the only way to grow is through small businesses and new job creation,” explained Davies. That means businesses need to find ways to hire on more people to expand.
The survey also revealed about 55 per cent of respondents use the newspaper to advertise their business and 58 per cent have a website.
“That’s actually really low,” added Davies, who wondered how they’re getting their message out if they are home-based with no store front and don’t have a website.
Bow Island businesses who responded don’t seem to be using business planners or financial consultants and more than 50 per cent aren’t setting goals for themselves to achieve.
Most said they like living and working in Bow Island (84 per cent) but are looking to their Chamber and Town offices for more information on local economic development and business growth strategies.
Because 62 per cent of the businesses surveyed said they purchase the same types of supplies, MHC officials feel there is an opportunity for them to work together to save money by mass purchasing. It will require these businesses to view each other as partners, as opposed to competitors.
Other interesting finds shared in the MHC’s executive summary include:
• The majority of the businesses (68 per cent) do not have a business plan or a marketing plan.
• 50 per cent of the businesses surveyed plan to expand their business. However, 54 per cent of these businesses are experiencing difficulty with their expansion plans. The difficulties vary from labour force training to financing.
• The businesses would like further infrastructure developed including affordable housing, road development, and a developed industrial park.
MHC officials will now work with Brooks officials to draft a survey for that business community. Those findings will be presented either late this spring or early fall. Then the focus turns to Oyen and Hanna in the fall with the presentation completed before the end of the year.

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Rose Sanchez

Assistant Managing Editor

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