WESTLOCK — The Town of Westlock has created a new economic development grant policy to help local businesses.
Councillors discussed the new policy at the Jan. 15 committee of the whole meeting, following a presentation by planning and development manager Danielle Pougher and ultimately voted to rise and report to the Jan. 22 regular council meeting, where it is expected to be adopted and come into effect immediately.
The policy, created to encourage economic development and continued investment in local businesses, outlines the process and procedures for reimbursement-based grants that will be given to eligible businesses and projects.
Three grant programs have been established under the new policy, which councillors can fund or eliminate at any time. This year, councillors have allocated $20,000 in the 2024 operating budget to fund a new signage grant.
In her presentation to councillors, Pougher provided an overview of the new policy and noted some of the feedback the town received from the 2023 business survey completed last summer.
“One of the common comments from the business owners that were surveyed was that there was a desire for direct investment from the town into local business,” said Pougher, pointing out a common tool for economic development is the use of grants.
“Council did include funding for a signage grant in the 2024 operating budget for the amount of $20,000 and this policy establishes our economic development granting program, with the signage grant included as well as the potential for the program to include three grants in total.”
Pougher said grants range from encouraging businesses to invest in their physical locations as well as in their marketing efforts. She detailed each grant and what they will provide for local businesses, starting with the signage grant.
“The purpose of that grant is to assist business and property owners to install new or updated exterior signage on the exterior of a non-residential building, so commercial or industrial,” said Pougher.
The second grant, a storefront improvement grant, will help property owners improve the exterior appearance of buildings “as part of a completely coordinated exterior design.”
“This program may not cover normal maintenance costs or piecemeal repairs or enhancements,” said Pougher, noting the third and final grant is a business development grant that will assist businesses improve the quality and effectiveness of their marketing, including the development of a marketing plan and associated marketing materials.
“The policy sets out the process for applications under the program, the maximum funding available under each grant, the responsibilities of both administration and program applicants, the eligibility criteria for each grant and application requirements for each grant as well,” she added.
Pougher noted that the program and the policy “allows for council to fund any or all of the grant programs in any given year” depending on budget restraints.
“For the signage grant in particular, the requirements would be that the business possesses a valid business license, they are a resident business located within town limits,” explained Pougher, adding the grant policy does limit where in-town properties can be (located) to be eligible. “Those are in our commercial districts, our industrial districts, our downtown districts as well as our neighbourhood commercial district in our residential land-use area.”
The proposed signs need to be permanent, and applicants need to ensure they have all the required municipal approvals in place before starting a signage project.
“The grant will cover up to 50 per cent of eligible costs,” said Pougher, noting that includes things like professional services such as design permit fees, direct labour for the installation and sign purchase and materials.
The policy also sets out the application process where applicants need to provide a sign design as well as the proposed location.
“Funding will be limited depending on how much council has allocated towards the grant program in a year,” she said, noting the grant has potential to fund four applications at the full grant amount of $5,000 each.
Once the policy is in effect, applications for the economic development grants can be submitted through the planning and development department. They will be reviewed and forwarded to the CAO for final approval.