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Town adopts new business strategy

Economic development in Okotoks has a new roadmap to follow for the next five years. The “Together We Can” strategic plan, approved by council on Nov.

Economic development in Okotoks has a new roadmap to follow for the next five years.

The “Together We Can” strategic plan, approved by council on Nov. 23, outlines short-term, mid-range and long-term goals for business and tourism in the community from 2016 to 2020.

The Town has produced three-year economic plans up in the past, but this is its first five-year comprehensive strategy.

“We need to think more long-term because Okotoks is at a turning point with annexation,” said economic development manager Shane Olson. “It’s an aggressive plan, it’s an ambitious plan, but it’s meant to be challenging to push us forward.”

The focus of the plan rests on four key objectives, which are referred to in the strategic plan as “Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs).” Each goal is associated with a series of actions for implementation.

The four overarching goals are to be a “Yes we can community” with business-friendly policies and progressive attitudes, to have a vibrant downtown core with three anchors, to promote active transportation, and to draw more professional businesses to town that allow residents to live and work in Okotoks.

“This is our framework,” said Olson. “It’s a look at what we’re doing very well and how we can improve in various areas to become more investment-ready.”

With active transportation plans in the works, residents can expect downtown Okotoks to become more inviting for those on-foot, with an expansion of pathways, he said.

The Town may also encourage active transportation among visitors and residents by welcoming businesses such as bike rental shops, he said.

“Keeping people active in the downtown area is key to developing a business and cultural district there,” said Olson.

Part of the focus on downtown Okotoks is to create three “anchors,” or focal points, he said.

Examples of possible downtown anchors are a larger plaza, an enclosed market and a cultural facility, all intended to draw visitors to the area.

“We may not achieve everything here in five years, but we’re going to try to do what we can,” said Olson.

Success of the strategic plan will be measured by data such as the number of new jobs created in town, Town of Okotoks website engagement, social media and content marketing results, as well as speaking to people in public workshops and other forums.

“The metrics can change over time and are fluid,” said Olson. “Some things in economic development are softer to measure, so we have to be aware and diligent.”

Coun. Tanya Thorn, who sits on the economic development committee, said the measurement strategy needs to be more specific in order to be successful.

“Goals should be specific and measurable,” she said. “To say we want to see an increase in something is too broad. We need to get more specific as to how much that increase should be.”

Overall, she is pleased with the plan and its involvement with the entire community.

The strategy shows a movement away from believing economic development is strictly led by Town of Okotoks administration, she said.

To accomplish its goals, the Town is partnering with the Okotoks and District Chamber of Commerce, Community Futures Highwood, McBride Career Group and Olde Towne Okotoks.

“We need to do a lot more partnerships in order to accomplish things in the future,” said Thorn. “For me, it’s a more collaborative approach than in the past.”

Creating a five-year plan makes sense, she said, because it makes goals more achievable and aligns with other planning strategies within the community.

Though the top-level goals have been identified, Thorn said the strategic plan will continue to evolve.

“It will be a living, breathing document,” she said. “We’ll see more updates and changes made to the plan over time, but we have a strong start.”

The five-year strategic plan is putting a foot in the right direction, she said.

“It’s taken us a while to get there, but we’re getting there.”

The plan will return to the economic development committee in January to discuss suggested revisions and work out the measurable goals, she said.

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