Despite the number of business licenses issued in the RM of Wood Buffalo dropping by a third in the last four years, entrepreneurs are optimistic and putting down roots in Fort McMurray.
In 2017, Wood Buffalo issued 3,225 licenses. In 2018, that number was 3,282.
The number of licenses started dropping after that, to 2,568 licenses in 2020 and 2,162 in 2021.
In the first month of 2022, there were 134.
Dianna De Sousa, executive director of the Fort McMurray Chamber of Commerce, said the flood of 2020 and the pandemic have had a big impact on the number of businesses, specifically, downtown businesses.
"It took a long time for some businesses to reopen," De Sousa said. "A lot of people just didn't make a lot of money over the past two years."
She would like to see a proper analysis done of where the vacancies are, why businesses are closing and what type of businesses are needed in the community.
"If you understand that, then maybe there are incentives you can put in place," said De Sousa.
The Chamber of Commerce isn't financially equipped to do that kind of project, so De Sousa said it's something she would look to the municipality to complete.
De Sousa said the chamber has seen growth in its membership: in 2021, there were 427 members and as of now, there are 526.
"I am optimistic but I do think if we fully understand it, we can improve it," said De Sousa.
Ayisha Salman, owner of The Kitchen, opened her business in 2021. She had a restaurant in Toronto before the pandemic that focused on corporate catering, but overnight all of her catering orders disappeared.
She moved with her family to Fort McMurray and opened a restaurant, which she said was a very long process.
Opening the business, there were some difficulties with licensing and inspections.
And since opening, finding staff has been difficult.
"We're hiring honestly all positions," said Salman.
Her dream is to turn her takeout-style restaurant into several different restaurants offering a multitude of cuisines, but without reliable staff, it's impossible.
"We have to limit our menu and our options at this time," said Salman.
She's not surprised to hear that there are fewer business licenses being issued, and that some operations have closed in town.
"It's been slower than we were expecting," said Salman. But she's optimistic, because summer is coming.
The permanent population in Fort McMurray and the price of oil is also up.
"That will inspire more businesses to hopefully open up," said Salman.
Julieta Miranda, CEO of Kid Drop, started her business just as the pandemic hit. Kid Drop is a service that shuttles kids between separated parents, to and from extracurriculars or to and from school.
The business picked up quickly, with Miranda purchasing a downtown commercial space in late 2021. They drive about 115 kids per day.
"It's huge growth," said Miranda.
She took advantage of several programs in town to help, including StartUp YMM's mentorship program and the downtown revitalization incentive program.
Miranda said it was hard to find commercial space, as it was limited and expensive, but thanks to an angel investor she could purchase a building for the business.
"It's growing quite rapidly and I'm just so proud," said Miranda.