Hanna Rural Alberta Business Centre closing after eight years

Craig Berke, Hanna’s Rural Alberta Business Centre advisor, smiles for the camera. ECA Review/Submitted

Since 2012 there has been a Small Business Advisor located in Hanna funded by the Alberta Provincial Government.

This was part of an overall strategy to bring economic support to smaller communities.

Originally, this centre was a pilot project set up to see if having face to face meetings rather than online self-help websites would best fit the local business communities and increase business success rates.

Hanna’s Rural Alberta Business Centre (RABC) office mandate was to assist existing or new businesses with business plan creation, financial planning, goal planning and marketing plans, as well as to assist in succession planning for retiring business owners.

Overall in all of the communities where an RABC was set up, there was a marked increase in business satisfaction and success by having local support.

“From everything from initial idea startups all the way to succession, the rural Alberta Business Centre in Hanna has had a large part in playing the successes in that from one extreme to the other,” said Doray Veno, executive director of the Hanna Learning Centre (HLC).

It survived eight years helping many small businesses along the way from a wide net in and surrounding Hanna like Special Areas, the County of Paintearth, Starland County, Kneehill County, Stettler and even as far as the County of Newell.

In Hanna, the funding was administered by the Hanna Learning Centre.

Over the years, there have been three business advisors stationed here that work with the program.

In the beginning, there were eight business centres across Alberta but then was cut down to four before leaving Hanna as the last remaining centre standing for a final year.

“We saw the writing on the wall for quite some time. We didn’t like it and we were hopeful that we could influence the government to look at it again but just with the circumstances we’re in now with COVID-19 and where the government is going with their funding there just doesn’t seem to be a door open,” said Veno.

Thankfully, Veno says the HLC has been preparing by having several key services still available in the Hub like Cactus Corridor Economic Development and Hanna Chamber of Commerce and Community Futures to help bridge the gap being left behind by this free service.

“It’s disappointing there isn’t the provincial dollars for the sustainability of the rural Alberta business centre. 

We’re hopeful that the business hub we’re creating with our anchor tenants can continue some of the gaps. 

We will see a gap in service of that direct support for businesses so we will try our best to support businesses with the business hub to fill that but it will look a little different.”

Veno found that much of their success with the program has been linked to simply having a ‘real-live person’ in the community for people to openly converse with about their needs and questions.

“We’ve helped many folks for the greater area, not just the municipality of Hanna by any means, and it was an opportunity for entrepreneurs and business owners to have conversation with a real live person that understands rural Alberta business and that we didn’t just refer them to online services.”

“Each one of them [business advisors] have definitely brought their unique experience and strengths to the project so that was also a neat opportunity to have such diverse skill sets through one program,” she said.

One of the highlighted projects the RACB undertook was a deep dive into small home businesses and determining what these people truly need to support them.

“Just identifying that our home-based businesses are a huge part of our business ecosystem and how that impacts our community. So that has been a big win just by identifying how they fit into the ecosystem and how we can support them.

Another was succession planning that otherwise wouldn’t have happened at all if it weren’t for the advisor and this program.

“The business advisor was able to support the seller and new buyers so that could be a successful transition. I don’t think it would be if they didn’t have that hands-on support that

The centre will be closing as of June 30, 2020. For the next two months, people still have an opportunity to get external support and assistance, free of charge for your existing business or to discuss starting up a new business.

Maybe it’s just an idea and you would like to see if it has merit.

As for the HLC business hub, Veno hopes the user-pay route they are taking will keep the hub sustainable after their three-year pilot period is completed.

 

Terri Huxley

ECA Review

About the author

Terri Huxley

Terri Huxley

Terri grew up on a grain farm near Drumheller, Alberta with an eye for the beautiful and uncharted. Living in such a unique and diverse area has helped her become the photographer and reporter she is today.

Coming from the East Central region getting this newspaper on her dinner table growing up, it helped her understand the community she now serves.

In May 2019, Terri was awarded Alberta Weekly Newspaper Association (AWNA) Canada's Energy Citizens Photographic Awards Sports Action – First Place as well as first for the same sports action image nationally with the Canadian Community Newspaper Association (CCNA). Fast forward to 2020, she has won second in the same category for the AWNA.

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