By Cole Parkinson
After a few months of complete social distancing and quarantines, the province of Alberta has finally kicked off Phase 2 of their relaunch strategy.
Starting on June 12, the provincial government announced Albertans could start beginning to get back to a relative normal routine compared to before with many different areas opening up.
“Albertans have demonstrated the care and common sense needed to move forward with our relaunch earlier than initially planned. Our data tells us our active cases are low, hospitalizations are trending downward and people are taking action to protect those most vulnerable and prevent the spread of the virus. We will continue to move forward together to overcome any tough times ahead, but responsible Albertans should be proud of the vigilance they have shown to date,” said Premier Jason Kenney in a press release announcing the start of Phase 2.
While things have opened up, the need to practise good hygiene and maintain distance in social settings is still being recommended by health officials.
“More Albertans can now return to work and to the activities so many of us enjoy. However, I encourage you to do it safely. Think of the people in your life who may be at high risk from COVID-19 and protect all those around you as you would want your loved ones protected. Stay home if you are sick. Stay two metres apart and wear a non-medical mask if you can’t. Consider downloading the ABTraceTogether app, and wash your hands often,” said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Chief Medical Officer of Health, in the same press release.
The good news coming from the re-opening of many amenities in the province is many businesses have opened their doors.
While shopping local has always been something talked about as crucial to any community, it is now more than ever important as many experienced a slow spring.
“The success of the economic relaunch will be heavily dependent on people getting out and spending money within our community to support local businesses. Many businesses in Taber have felt the pressure of months of being shut down or operating at partial capacity, these are the businesses that have always supported the community through sponsoring events like Cornfest, supporting local sports teams and employing residents,” said Phyllis Monks, Town of Taber director of planning and economic development. “A recent survey conducted by the Lethbridge Regional Recovery Task Force (which Taber is part of) showed that 52 per cent of businesses surveyed need to make at least 75 per cent of their typical sales to make it worthwhile to remain open through the summer. Without people getting out and supporting these businesses there is a concern we will see more permanent closures. Many businesses have also had to change the way they do their business and have increased their operational costs to comply with provincial health orders to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and keep the community safe. The benefit to these added costs is that it should assist in consumer confidence in returning to these facilities safely. It has been an exceptionally difficult few months for local businesses and with the uncertainty of how long the pandemic will last, it is more important than ever for people to get out and support their local businesses.”
Similarly, the M.D. of Taber is encouraging residents in the municipality to shop local as much as they can in Phase 2.
“It’s very important that we support local businesses here in the M.D. of Taber or in any of our surrounding communities. The key message to be taken is to do so as safely as possible being fully mindful of Dr. Hinshaw’s recommendation. A lot of small family operations were hit hard, so keeping them open and running is a main factor for our economic stability in the region. So, I encourage our residents to shop local as often as they can,” explained Kirk Hughes, M.D. director of planning and economic development, who also explained how the M.D. and town have been working together during the pandemic. “Myself and Ben Young (Town of Taber economic development officer) were in contact throughout the pandemic, and we also sat jointly on the Regional Economic Recovery Task Force, which included our partners from SouthGrow, the Regional Economic Development Advisor, members of the Canadian Premier Food Corridor (CPFC) as well as government officials from all levels. It is that task force that really spurred our inter-agency collaboration. Trevor Lewington (Choose Lethbridge) and Peter Casurella (SouthGrow) did fantastic work co-ordinating our information dissemination that you can find on our website. We know that the M.D. doesn’t grow in a vacuum so having all our regional partners together on weekly Zoom meetings as beneficial as we navigated the unprecedented waters that was COVID-19.”
Facilities opening with restrictions under Phase 2 including K-12 schools, libraries, wellness services, personal services, indoor recreation (gyms, arenas etc.), movie theatres/theatres, community halls, pools and casinos/bingo halls.
Even though Phase 2 just kicked off in mid-June, both economic departments have been working hard on how to get things back to a relative normal when things did open back up.
“It’s certainly been a busy few months for all of our town departments. While the town administration office was closed to the public without an appointment the day-to-day operations of the town never stopped,” stated Monks. “With most of the planning and economic development team working remotely, we still had in-office staff available to the public and have been busy working with regional partners on planning for the relaunch and recovery. On top of this, we have been continuing with many important town projects such as the planning for our 60 acre affordable/alternative housing development, a downtown architectural guide, gateway signage review, a new regional business and community profile magazine, processing development permits and subdivisions, and marketing and promoting Taber to attract new businesses. Our office is now fully open to the public, however, people may notice a few changes in the building such as a plexiglass barrier at the planning and main administration counters to ensure we are keeping our staff and the public safe while being able to operate ‘normally’.”
As far as any other projects the group has been working on to get economic activity back to the town of Taber, there have been some forthcoming developments.
“Our department is working collaboratively with the Regional Recovery Task Force to support local businesses and help them navigate the relaunch. We continuously update the Town of Taber’s website to include links and important information for businesses to simplify the process of sorting through all the various support programs available. We also have links for where businesses can source personal protective equipment (PPE) from within southern Alberta and information about how to find and access Alberta Biz Connect. Our Taber economic development team is ready to support and assist businesses who need guidance navigating the various federal and provincial support programs and we encourage anyone who may be feeling overwhelmed or unprepared to re-open to contact our team,” continued Monks.
While most things were slowed down due to the pandemic, the M.D. economic department did no such thing.
“(It’s been) busy. We’ve been working with our regional partners to finalize an action plan that would allow the re-launch to work as flawlessly as possible. We’ve been contributing and sharing in information, that has been the most time consuming, to our residents via our website. So much information was being sent out so rapidly it was hard for people to keep up, especially small businesses. Additionally, the planning and economic development department worked tirelessly to implement development permits, follow up on economic development opportunities and tighten up the language on a few projects such as our Intermunicipal Development Plan (IDP) with the Town of Taber. All of this while working remotely from home,” added Hughes. “We have some projects that are close to being completed that will give a jolt to our local economy. Federated Co-op (if you haven’t seen the progress, it’s worth the drive) is almost operational. A few solar projects are on-track and on-target as well as the big push we’ve seen from local farmers in the construction of agricultural buildings throughout the M.D. but specifically those that are occurring along Highways 3 and 36. We are encouraged by the growth we are already seeing right out of the gate of COVID-19.”
For more information on the province’s relaunch including what is and isn’t allowed during Phase 2, visit alberta.ca/RelaunchStrategy.