Earlier this month the Kenney government came through with massive infrastructure stimulus projects to help the southern Alberta region meet the post-COVID economic challenges it is facing.
Both the $27.8-million grant handed out for the Exolution project at Exhibition Park in Lethbridge and the $150 million handed out for highway twinning between Taber and Burdett were welcome, and will help increase the presence of agriculture in the region while directly benefiting local companies.
But as massive as these two infusions of capital are, the larger issues facing the economy will be an unenviable challenge for elected officials here in the region, throughout the province, and at the federal level for a lengthy period of time to come.
While the Kenney government pins the province’s hopes on massive tax cuts for large corporations, local small businesses continue to face acres of uncertainty.
Most local businesses are service oriented or offer specialty products, both of which rely on local residents having a little extra coin in their jeans after all their basic bills are paid. And that is just not the case for most residents who are either on direct government income support due to COVID-19 or hanging on by a thread at the moment.
We have also lost a lot of good public-sector jobs in the past few months as the Kenney government has cut back on its spending. So it is safe to say most people are figuratively walking around with turned-out pockets, and have nothing to show for it but a bit of lint.
More needs to be done in Alberta to stimulate small business.
If we are spending untold billions of dollars anyway, one hardly stops to count pennies.
It’s pretty rich to suggest an oilfield service company deserves a tax cut or a bailout, but then turn a deaf ear to the plight of a family restaurant, a local sports outfitter or a specialty clothing store, small businesses upon which so much of our local economy relies, and call it breaking a few eggs to make an omelette.
What form that stimulus takes may not be so easy to figure.
Municipalities could produce local grants or create some kind of rent supplement program for small businesses, or perhaps offer some kind of tax incentives for shopping local.
The province is giving onetime grants of up to $5,000 for eligible small-to medium-sized businesses, but that might help with one month’s worth of expenses when finally doled out.
Some kind of tax incentives like a home renovation tax credit or provincial rent supplement program, might also be something to consider.
Ultimately, as Premier Kenney said when he was in the area earlier this month, the best fix for small business woes is a booming economy.
But until we get on that upward swing again, most small businesses could use a little more ongoing help to get by.