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Rural and Small Businesses Are the Highlight of Parkland County

Photos from a Good Morning Honey hive in Parkland County as part of the Photo Collection Legacy Project Parkland County, AB, Canada.

If you’ve experienced Parkland County, then chances are you’ve experienced the charm of Parkland County’s small and rural businesses—businesses whose strong history, the County is proud to point out, share an even stronger connection to the ongoing success of the culture and economy of the area.

“Small businesses throughout Alberta have proven that they are an essential part of the provincial economy, and Parkland County certainly is no exception to this,” says Candace Charron, business development officer, Parkland County. “In 2016, the County had 1,226 businesses registered in our region, and of that number, 94.9 per cent were considered small businesses. This number isn’t decreasing, either; there is a strong history to show that there will be continued growth of small businesses. Just between 2015 and 2016, Parkland County saw an increase of 90 businesses.

“Parkland County’s economy and location support a variety of different rural and small businesses. You’ll find all types of businesses in the region, ranging from home-based companies to family-run farms, trucking companies and food production plants. The opportunities really are limitless.”

“We understand these small businesses are directly contributing to employment in rural areas, increased tax revenue, and an improved quality of life in the communities they reside in,” Charron adds, “and we are here to support our entrepreneurs throughout this process.”

How does Parkland County go about supporting its rural entrepreneurs? By innovating to resolve the challenges they face—like those that were written into the Land Use Bylaw.

“After noticing some gaps within Parkland County’s Land Use Bylaw,” Charron explains, “our planning and development department has done a great job in coming up with innovative solutions. The first change was the addition of the Cottage Industry Land Use, making it a lot easier to start or expand a small business in the County. The amendment allows for a more diverse range of creative, rural cottage businesses, even if they are not located in traditional commercial districts. For example, a farm can now have a gift shop, farmer’s market, or café located directly on their property. With this amendment, the permit process is more efficient and inclusive of the types of businesses that are allowed on rural properties. Since the inception, we have had many businesses approved under the use, including a wedding venue, an eco-education centre, a brewery, and a café.

“The second change is the addition of the Agriculture Industrial Development (AGI) District. This new district allows for rural-based, value-added agriculture and alternative energy-based developments outside of industrial areas where serviced-land costs can be as high as $450,000 per acre. Heading west in the County, un-serviced land prices can be as low as $2,500 per acre. Once land is re-zoned, approved uses include extensive agriculture developments, general industrial manufacturing, and processing focused on agriculture and solar farms. Companies such as Pinnacle Renewable Energy, located in Entwistle, have already taken advantage of the benefits this new district provides.

“The third change is the addition of the Cannabis Production Facility Land Use. This has been added as a discretionary use under the Agriculture District. Now cannabis growers looking to come to the County can consider both industrial and agriculture areas. We have just approved a 22,000 square foot medicinal cannabis facility in the western portion of the County through this amendment.”

She adds, “We are hopeful that these changes will increase the types of innovative businesses that are coming to rural Parkland County.”

“As proven by the solution-based changes to our Land Use Bylaw, Parkland County embraces change that will help our community and businesses thrive,” Charron emphasizes. “Looking through the lenses of innovation and open-mindedness, we are dealing with challenges and opportunities while staying focused on areas that increase the wellbeing of Parkland County economically, socially, and environmentally. In doing so, we have become very customer centric in our approach to how we work with all businesses and community partners.”

The businesses aren’t the only ones taking note. Even the bees in Parkland County are benefitting from the energy the County is bringing into its community.

Good Morning Honey Ltd. is a family owned and operated, CFIA registered and inspected apiary; it is also a member of the Alberta Honey Producers Co-Operative, which is marketed under the Bee Maid Honey brand. The company, which produces honey that is sold across North America as well as in Europe and Asia, was incorporated in 2011 after Richard Ozero was given the opportunity to take over for a retiring beekeeper.

“I grew up on a mixed farm,” Ozero, co-owner, Good Morning Honey, explains. “I got away from it for a while and started a radio/TV career, then I realized that I was missing a lot about agriculture.”

Hoping to get back into farming, he began cold calling farmers for their insights and to inquire into possible land for sale. In the process, he ran into a beekeeper. When he bought his farm property in July of 2006, a place for the “Noah’s Ark of animals” he wanted, the idea of beekeeping was still in his mind.

“I thought it would be cool to put a couple of hives on my property. I could help the beekeeper, maybe buy one or two hives, and be the cool kid on the block with beehives (back before owning hives became a trend).” Then he heard the beekeeper was retiring. “I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take over his territory,” he describes, so he took it.

“I went from zero to 920 hives,” he laughs. “It was a leap of faith, but it worked out. I loved the idea that the harder you work, the more potential there was—and the fact that bees are a beneficial, clean, and essential part of agriculture—and they make honey!”

Ozero now keeps 3,200 hives, but the business isn’t the only thing that has history beyond its incorporation; some of his bee yards go back generations, handed down from beekeeper to beekeeper.

It’s a feature that’s in keeping with much of Parkland County, Ozero points out. “Parkland County is a great agriculture county with a good variety of land, and many farms here are multigenerational. The County itself is very supportive in helping grow business and getting those businesses market exposure, right in your backyard to neighbours as well as to the rest of the province.”

Of course, there is a good reason for offering that support. “Small businesses are the lifeblood of a community,” he explains. “Those are the businesses that care about their surroundings. As a small business owner, you have a stake in what’s around you. You want to make your neighbourhood better, so you are more likely to do what’s right instead of only chasing margins.”

Karen Sievwright, partner, Spruce Park Ranch, is quick to agree. “Rural and small businesses help keep Parkland County relevant when Edmonton and other surrounding communities are so nearby,” she explains. “Parkland County is home. It’s beautiful and has so much to offer. It’s not only a fantastic place to live, but having access to so many treasures makes this a community worth living, playing, and shopping in.”

Spruce Park Ranch Country Store’s history also points to the attribute of Parkland County that speaks to its success: longevity. The family-run home decor and coffee shop is located on its original homestead, one that has been around for over 112 years. The store itself is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

“The store has blossomed from a tiny one-aisle shop to over 2,000 square feet of country- and farmhouse-style retail shopping,” Sievwright notes. “It is also well known for its seasonal set ups and events and for its support of many of Parkland County’s local artisans and businesses.”

She reminisces, “The store started as a way to reach out and keep up with the demand of our farmer’s market clientele all year long, but because my mother and I are crafty people, we wanted the space to look attractive. We had no idea that this would spark the store we have today.”

“A business in Parkland County,” Sievwright observes, “has the huge advantage of being close to Edmonton while still keeping the destination location/daycation feel. It becomes an escape from the everyday bustle of the city, but is close enough to be convenient. Small and rural businesses in Parkland County become almost a local attraction.”

That destination location or daycation vibe is an important economic driver, and it’s something small and rural businesses are especially capable of achieving, not just due to the uniqueness of their industry, but also because of the rich histories behind them.

The next time you are enjoying the unique charm Parkland County has to offer, be sure to thank the small and rural businesses that have given their all to make it possible.