Despite the economic downturn in Alberta, the Town of Okotoks says it's seeing signs of business growth.

Officials say there was a three per cent rise in the number of business licences issued to residents last year. Some of it is due to people laid off from the oil patch who are now opting to open a store or start a home based company.

Veteran oil patch engineer Jeff Knibbs lost his job with a Calgary company last year, so he decided to start his own engineering consulting firm from his Okotoks home.

"A lot of my colleagues have gone and started a consulting business, kind of out of necessity," Knibbs said.

He's busy with work, gets to spend more time with family and doesn't miss the commute.

Okotoks sign

There were more than 180 new business startups in the town of Okotoks last year.

Knibbs isn't the only one. Shane Olson with Okotoks Economic Development says he's seen several laid-off oil workers opting to start their own businesses or even change careers.

"Health and wellness related businesses, recreation related businesses — something they have a passion about or perhaps training in, they're now reverting back to those skills sets."

Olson says there were more than 180 new business startups in town last year — most were home based, the rest opened stores.

Okotoks street

Business is thriving in Okotoks despite the downturn, Okotoks Economic Development says. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

As for Knibbs, he's not ruling out a return to an oil and gas company, but for now he says consulting means a salary, a way to network and an opportunity for his family to stay in a community they love.

"I haven't really decided yet if it's a long term thing or not," he said.