Businesses feel impact from World Junior A Challenge, but 2019 looms large

Alex Newhook swoops near the Canada East goal during tournament play at the World Junior A Challenge

Although the World Junior A Challenge games are over, the economic impact of the week long hockey tournament is still being felt.

Especially, with an outlook in 2019 that looks dreary for the Lakeland region and the energy sector.

“I would say that it was better than it would’ve been without it, for sure,” said Sal Naim, owner of Five Star group, which includes the Player’s Lounge, Mr. Mike’s, and Sonny’s Cold Beer and Liquor.

“But when we look at our trend I think what we’re seeing is a larger trend that is pointing downward, and I think that started in October and November.

“What this hockey tournament has done is basically held up a bit of a number if you will, and kept this economic activity fairly stable,” said Naim.

Mayor Gene Sobolewski agrees with that sentiment.

“Particularly in some of the stores, the restaurants, the hotels, it was just an itty-bitty boom,” said Mayor Gene Sobolewski.

“It was something that the community needed right now because there’s a lot of hurting right now with the way the economy is. It was a phenomenal response by the community,” he said.

One of the key areas the tournament revenue is going is back into hockey. Bonnyville minor hockey, the Bonnyville Jr. A Pontiacs, and the Bonnyville Sr. Pontiacs will split some of the money, but the final total is not yet known.

Overall, World Junior A Challenge co-chair Robb Hunter said this the tournament turned a profit.

“That was one of the big reasons I got involved in hosting this in 2016 was wanting to be able to bring this into the economy locally, and I think in 2018 it was needed more and it was good timing,” said Hunter.

“The host organizing community paid for a lot of the hotel rooms and restaurants with the provincial sponsorships and funding we had. That’s bringing money into the region, so those are the direct costs we’re covering. Hotel rooms, meals, that sort of thing for the team.

“Then think about the 300 NHL scouts coming in with team credit cards and expense accounts and they’re going out and buying coffee and renting vehicles…all that influx of money was being spent in our region,” he said.

With that being said, there is not a lot of optimism when the calendar turns to 2019 economically.

“There’s just a lot less disposable income and that’s reflected definitely in the amount of traffic we see,” said Naim. “I just wish it was in a better economic context for the whole community.”