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Northern Opportunities: A Pretty Good Deal
Ryan Gilmore was frustrated with high school and considered dropping out. Then he learned of the dual credit programs offered by the Northern Opportunities… [read more]
Open to Everyone
Nicole Schartner says she is glad to be in the Power Engineering program at GPRC (Grande Prairie Regional College) Fairview Campus not only because she… [read more]
Fort St. John: Energized & Ready to Roll
Priding itself on being a family friendly community, Fort St. John still manages to find plenty of room for industry and business. “There’s tons… [read more]
Education Expands its Role
With an increased labour shortage looming, governments and educators in the West are scrambling to find measures to offset what could be, and in some cases… [read more]
Priding itself on being a family friendly community, Fort St. John still manages to find plenty of room for industry and business.
“There’s tons of stuff going on,” said Fort St. John Brent Hodson.
Mayor Lori Ackerman agrees. “I have always loved the energy here. We have a very strong volunteer base here that provides opportunities for our youth, social infrastructure, arts and cultural and sport…Our ability to think outside the box is part of our DNA.”
Being the “second largest community” north of Kamloops affords plenty of opportunities she added. Walking trails, a busy cultural centre, library, and plenty of local and nationally recognized musicians help to create a vibrancy and excitement for residents. With a very young population, that is no small achievement.
Fort St. John also sports a facility that provides for year round indoor soccer as well as the Pomeroy Sports Centre with an indoor walking track, ice rinks, and a world-class speed skating oval. It also has the distinction of providing classroom space for education.
“The Energetic Learning Centre is a partnership between School District #60 and the City of Fort St John that sees project based learning being facilitated in our new Pomeroy Sport Centre. I love the T-Shirts that the youth had made – ‘You know you are Canadian when you go to school in a hockey rink, Eh!’.”
Providing quality of life across generations is one of the things that keeps people in the community, but most of the time it’s the work that gets them there. And right now, that is posing challenges for the growing community.
Businesses of all kinds are finding themselves challenged to find enough people to fill all the jobs in the area. In fact, Hodson says the unemployment rate is “so low it can’t even be measured properly”.
“We all know someone who ‘came up for a couple of years’ and stayed,” says Ackerman. “I think it’s because you will come here to work, connect with the community and stay for the life.”
That influx of people, while desirable, creates another critical challenge – finding living accommodations for them all – but it is a bit of a catch 22 situation.
There is a shortage of housing stock, says Ackerman but while she recognizes that there are “developments coming forward that will create some beautiful neighbourhoods”, the lack of skilled trades keeps the ability to get things built slower than is ideal.
The business community and the municipal government are both addressing the issue of planning for growth. With the assistance of urban planners and the completion of the Official Community Plan, “the city has really taken the initiative”, says Hodson.
If there was one thing that he would change about the city, he says it would be the way the city is laid out. Like other communities, the downtown core has had its struggles. Part of the current planning includes the “infill” of that area to create higher density. That also extends out to the city boundaries, says Ackerman, so that the city can make the best use of existing infrastructure.
Despite the challenges there is still a fair amount of investment in the city, says Hodson. While the Chamber of Commerce is doing its part to support businesses, the city is also doing their part to encourage businesses to operate in Fort St. John.
“Fort St John has initiated strengthening partnerships with the industries that are significant to our economy. These include the energy, forestry and agriculture industries,” says Ackerman.
Fort St. John’s uniqueness lies in the blend of industries, agriculture and “some of the most beautiful nature escapes in Canada” she says.
Whether it’s the dollars that flow to the province, or the contributions to community organizations, industry plays a huge role in the community but other business also play their part.
“Retention and expansion of local small- and medium-sized businesses are key to moving forward as the CEO’s and owners of the local businesses are our best ambassadors for any new business considering Fort St John as home,” says Ackerman.
“Fort St John is a community that has been underestimated for years. It has been through the tenacity of the people who live here and the rich resources that will continue to make it a great place to be.”
The future looks bright for both the County and City of Grande Prairie and they are busy planning to make the most of the opportunities.
“I think the region has a lot to offer families and potential employees,” said county administrator Bill Rogan.
“I think it’s probably fair to say it’s always difficult to attract to the North, there seems to be that sense that you get too far out of the bigger city, but I think that the Grande Prairie Region has got all the amenities that any family would want to get in a larger centre, perhaps on a little bit smaller scale but sometimes that’s okay too.”
Grande Prairie has seen a substantial amount of reinvestment into the area both by industry and government and they say that’s going to payoff for people.
“If we can continue to reinvest in (infrastructure) and still have the lowest property tax increase over the past decade then I think council has done a fantastic job, and it really proves that our consensus focus on the bottom line was the right direction to go.”
At a municipal level, said Given, they are planning for modest growth because municipalities tend to lag behind industrial development but that doesn’t mean they aren’t looking further down the road.
“Council has been working with administration to institute industrial attraction development strategies. We know that we’re going to have a significant amount of land available and we believe that we need to be open for business and have strategies ready as soon as that land comes under the city’s jurisdiction to encourage industry to locate there,” said Given.
Current investments include a plan to set aside $8 million a year for roads, $250,000 for pathways and trails, a new fire hall for the west end and of course, the jewel in the crown, $110 million on a multiplex.
With $700,000 alone going toward a dino theme to compliment the proposed Philip J. Curry Museum, Given believes the facility will be something that has a regional and tourism draw.
“Council put a lot of time and effort into it to ensure that there’s something for everyone. It’s the only 54 metre pool northwest of Edmonton until you get to probably Whitehorse, and it has Canada’s second FlowRider surfing machine.
The county has its draws as well with their sportsplex, scheduled to come online in a year, complimenting the multiplex. That facility will house a twin ice arena and a half, full pitch soccer field.
“I think those two buildings combined are going to provide facilities second to none in the province as far as what families are looking for in the realm of recreation combined with the other things that already exist here: the parks, the ski hills, the cross-country skiing, so I think the region has much to offer to anyone that’s interested in relocating to the area for business,” said Given.
The added amenities are a response to industrial and commercial growth and although municipalities may lag behind a year, there has been plenty of activity on that side of things as well.
“I think we’re on the leading edge of another pick up in the economy,” said Given. “And I think this is a fantastic thing about the Peace Region; we really float in our own little lifeboat above the rest of the world economy. Certainly we go up and down with it but often times we ride slightly above, and I think from all the signs and indicators that we can see the Grande Prairie Region is set to take off again.”
Walmart is doing an expansion that will nearly double the size of their facility, there are some significant projects in the west end near where Grande Prairie’s third fire hall is going to be: Atco is consolidating some of their services from across the city and creating a regional service centre – that’s about a $73-million project just south of the airport – and another major truck stop has also been added to that area.
“Certainly we saw an uptick this fall in new development as far as commercial/ industrial…we’ve seen a real surge in development permits being taken out for new buildings,” said Rogan.
“A lot of our industrial parks are starting to fill up and I think we’ll probably be seeing some more lands being brought on for industrial use into the new year if the demand keeps up and we’re presuming it keeps up.”
Upgrades at Weyerhaeuser and Canfor bode well for the future of the forestry sector even as the oil and gas sector ramps up.
Truck drivers, heavy duty mechanics, and on the professional side, accounts are some of the positions that are already showing the largest need for workers, said Rogan.
“People are reinvesting, adding on, hiring employees, building new buildings, the oil patch from what I can understand is very active – we’re still a regional service centre.”
Indications are strengthening that support a growth trend, with more help wanted signs, and prices for projects increasing as contractors are harder to get.
“I’m very confident in our local economy. I know that it can be impacted by the world economy but I am very confident that we are on solid footing for a very strong three to five years at least.
I think the biggest theme running in Grande Prairie today, as it has been for a while, is that there is still a growing opportunity in our city…I think that the city has made the right kinds of investments in public infrastructure that the city is going to be an attractive place for employees to live and the next step is for us to start to make strategic investments in the infrastructure that will provide good opportunities for business and our council is ready to do that.
One of the things that is being handled differently that it has been in the past, is that instead of allocating funds to specific road projects, the city has opted to allocate a budget of $6 million to be available for strategic road priorities.
“The reason we did that instead of tying it to a single project is that we want to really look at investing that $6 million into projects that will encourage more commercial/industrial development and council is being very deliberate about ensuring we have the finds available to create new opportunities for businesses to locate in Grande Prairie,” said Given.
While housing is a major problem for much of the Peace, the Grande Prairie area is only now starting to see that sector impacted.
Where 18 months ago vacancy rates were close to 15 per cent, said Rogan, they are now close to four or five percent, and the cost of housing has remained relatively static.
“The world economy of course will have an impact on our region depending on how dramatic it is so everybody watches with some sense of unease what’s going on in Europe. I’m concerned that people will see world events and that will impact their confidence locally and I’m very confident that our local economy will remain strong for the next three to five years,” said Given.
“Our councils in the region are all experiencing the need for more staff, the need to construct more facilities whether they be water, wastewater, roads and (it will be a challenge to) find the dollars to do that particularly in times when prices will be escalating and manpower is hard to find, and trying to keep your tax rates competitive and attractive but still provide that needed infrastructure,” said Rogan.
Located 486 km northwest of Edmonton and 195 km northeast of Grande Prairie, Peace River and the surrounding area are perhaps best known for their scenic vistas and outdoor opportunities however, Peace River is more than just a pretty face.
A thriving regional service and trade center, the Peace River area has a vibrant business community and a growing industrial base. Retail, government, oil and gas and a solid home-based business segment are all part of the dynamic mix that supports and contributes to the area’s appeal.
“We know that we are on the verge of great opportunity in our region and yet Peace River is an interesting place – we’ve been on that verge of opportunity for a long, long time,” said Peace River Chamber of Commerce president Stephen Woodburn.
While there is an air of anticipation about the future, growth has been slow and steady blending expansion and stability for the community. They are “open for business” Woodburn said and new ventures are always welcome.
“I think that our business community really understands the area. We are regional thinkers. We’re not just focused on the town of Peace River for example…What comes to our area will not just support and benefit Peace River but it will support and benefit the region,” said Woodburn.
“I think that’s a key factor that needs to be recognized.”
There are also challenges. Getting specific information about what’s in development isn’t always as easy as Woodburn would like.
“We’ve been talking about nuclear energy in our region and that’s been very quiet now for some time and that’s fine but it sure would be nice to know from the powers that be ‘why is it so quiet?’”
“Sometimes that lack of communication, whether it’s from the oil companies or the energy industry in general, is one of the biggest challenges we face.”
And as it is in many Northern communities, Woodburn recognizes the business sector is a close-knit group, able to work together for common goals, and with the community commitment to be strongly supportive of volunteerism and community building.
There is also a strong sense of culture and heritage. Named Cultureville 2011, Peace River now has wide spread recognition for being a leading cultural centre of the country.
At the confluence of the Peace, Smoky and Heart rivers, there is plenty of history to be uncovered as well as a chance to appreciate the valley and all that it offers. Outlooks and trails provide access to the natural beauty of hills and valley as well as an opportunity for recreations such as walking, hiking, biking and photography. Parks provide families a place to gather.
While it is easy to stop and appreciate the beauty, that too is an opportunity for industrial growth.
“The beauty of the Peace River Valley and the area as a whole is certainly on the radar for tourism…and the Chamber of Commerce recognizes that and we encourage travellers to stop and make it part of their travel plans,” said Woodburn.
Located in the transition zone, Chetwynd stands at the crossroads of mountains, foothills and prairie but also of pipelines, rail lines, power lines and highways. It is unique in the Peace and with an ever-expanding industrial base, has much to offer visitors and residents alike.
With a population of 3,020 in the town and another 3,800 in the surrounding rural area, Chetwynd hosts the best of small town living with the social and cultural amenities to support them..
“With a smaller place there is something unique that you can offer that you can’t find in a city…the fact is that I love it so much and I think our quality of life is so high and the business climate here is friendly,” said economic development coordinator Ellen Calliou.
“We’re so fortunate that we have all our amenities here and right outside my door is green space. That’s my favourite thing.”
In addition to a spectacular vistas and outdoor activities, Chetwynd is home to every industry found in the region.
There is no one single driver for our local economy, we have every industry – oil and gas, forestry, wind, agriculture and coal. That is our community’s strength; that we have every industry in the Peace River Regional District,” said Calliou.
“Oil and gas is one of those ones that’s been here for a while and it just continually seems that there is expansion but I think our newest, strongest industry right now is coal.”
Like all the resource communities, Chetwynd is subject to the vagaries of a resource-based economy but that is mitigated by the diversification and Mayor Evan Saugstad said the community is seeing stable growth.
Despite that, it is a growth period for industries and the influx of people have posed some challenges.
“People are coming here but we also want their wives and their families to come because that’s were you get that second service…we just don’t have enough people to fill in the service sector so right now,” said Calliou.
Whether it’s residents or transients, Chetwynd wants people to feel at home. Providing those secondary services is critical to the community’s ability to make that happen. It’s tough when graduating students are easily lured with the top dollars paid by industry and make no mistake said Calliou, industry demand for people is very strong.
“The number of people that are coming and we’re turning away from not being able to stay here is alarming so the one thing we’re really trying to get out there is that we need housing. We have developers building, but we just need to be able to get that apartment built or those mobile home parks built, or something in that fashion because the housing just can’t be built fast enough.”
And it’s one of the reasons more families are not moving to Chetwynd. Another is the geography.
“People don’t necessarily want to live in the North or at least families don’t want to be in the North or in the small communities but to make the dollars, people are willing to sacrifice part of their lives and send somebody away to exile for two or three weeks out of the month. I think there’s going to be a lot of people that way.”
And that leaves the community and industry relying on camps to accommodate workers.
In fact, the municipality has approved a temporary work camp with 98 extra units and expects that an extension will be requested. It’s a reasonable solution although not one Calliou wants to be the only one.
“I’m glad we have the camp in the situation where we’re at but at the end of the day retention and recruitment of existing businesses are our focus and we need to be able to stage that,” said Calliou.
“We don‘t want to become a fulltime camp community so I’m really trying to work hard to be able to work with the companies to be able to open some opportunities where we can really get those apartments and those other things built in time so that they can live here permanently.”
A recent housing study showed that within the next 18 months, the composite influx of all the industries in the area should be about 1,000 people – all of whom will need housing and not all of whom will want to purchase a single family home.
The study, said Calliou, was intended to educated lending facilities to the very real needs of the area so that developers could more easily get the financing they need to be able to build the types of accommodations the community is most in need of.
One of the things Calliou stressed is that Chetwynd does have land and space to build.
“In my office right now, on a regular basis, we receive three to four phone calls where we’re actually turning people away that are relocating somewhere else because they cannot find housing here,” said Calliou. “At the end of the day that’s harmful for my community, it’s harmful for the industries that are trying to relocate them so why aren’t people building here? And it’s not just a short-fall it’s a long-fall.”
Developing partnerships both with industry and nearby communities to find creative solutions is moving Chetwynd closer to getting the housing they need.
“I think we’ve come up with a way that we can actually come to the table. We have some land ourselves in the municipality and we’re hoping to partner with a developer and also maybe, possibly some business sector where they will be able to say hey look at we know we need housing for the next three years and we will be able to guarantee 20 units of those will be filled with our people,” said Calliou.
They are also hoping that the proximity of Tumbler Ridge taps into an economy of scale for developers and while it may not be worth the added expenses of building in the North to come into one community with one property, the opportunities to build in both might tip the scale in favour of building.
“I’m hoping because the demand is in Tumbler and the demand is in Chetwynd and we’re so close to each other that a developer will come in and say, ‘Look I can build one here, build one there, operate the two and make some money’ because realistically what happens in Dawson, in Tumbler, in Hudson’s Hope benefits all of us in the whole region and that’s our jobs,” she added.
The whole picture of Chetwynd’s growth is complicated by the fact that the community has a slightly older population than other communities in the region. The end of the baby-boomers means that kids are leaving even as workers are coming in.
“Unlike Fort St. John where it seems to be quite a young town and there’s lots of babies, we don’t see that in Chetwynd yet,” said Saugstad.
With the challenge of housing set aside, the next issue is providing infrastructure said Saugstad.
“Right now Chetwynd is debt free. Some say you could borrow a whole bunch on money to keep up if you had to but the whole, if you look around the world, the whole problem is with excessive debt. And the (question is) how do we put in the infrastructure to accommodate the need for people when we don’t have federal or provincial government willing to kick anything in for that, and we don’t have the ability through property tax just to keep putting the taxes up?” said Saugstad.
While the town struggles to find answers to its housing and infrastructure needs, it is able to provide good schools, ample recreation and a rich cultural experience. And the challenges? Chetwynd is taking them in stride.
“I think our community is very close and most people have lived here a long time and the new comers…I think we’re responding all right,” concluded Calliou. Saugstad too is optimistic.
“Overall right now I think it’s good times.”
Dawson Creek (DC) has shown time and time again that they are sensitive to the needs of the residents as well as receptive to the needs of local industry. In fact, Mayor Mike Bernier and Dawson Creek are going above and beyond to create a financially viable climate to draw in new business from surrounding regions.
“One way we’re doing this is through lowering industrial taxes, lowered by 40-50 per cent,” said Bernier, “…and because of this we’ve had a lot of new living quarters, hotel projects and such – because of our economic stability.”
Providing economic incentives, like tax cuts to new businesses, are helping to create a stronger economic base for Dawson Creek and in doing so are priming the pump for future growth, and future generations.
Many young residents of Dawson Creek are in tune to the ideas of conservation and sustainability helping to create future generations of environmentally, community-minded citizens. Many of these broad-minded youths are attending Northern Lights College, also known as the Energy College, located on eight campuses including one in Dawson Creek.
NLC is an organization offering degree programs in a broad range of areas including traditional subjects like Business Management, English as a Second Language and many others. But perhaps more important to the region are curricula geared towards planning for careers in Oil Field Operations, Aboriginal Early Child Education and Wind Turbine Maintenance amongst others.
Preparation in these areas will help college bound seekers to get the education that they need to land profitable jobs in fields that are in dire need of well-trained and motivated workers.
Graduates finding jobs in the region will likely then continue to return precious dollars back into the DC economy thereby contributing to the perpetuation of DC and the dream of a city collectively motivated to live in harmony with the environment.
Dawson Creek is known for its progressive views towards sustainability and conservation and has been recognized and honored on numerous occasions. But a strong sense of community and fidelity to a common cause may very well be the key to their success at creating a town both appealing to the eye and respectful of the world around as well.
At the roots of DC’s progressive way of thinking is the idea that community is of the utmost importance and citizen involvement is at the top of the priority list. “Engaging people and encouraging involvement with important decisions is a big part of what’s going on here…(it’s) a sort of barn-raising mentality,” said Bernier.
Bernier has become known for his easy-going and inviting manner in open forums such as DC’s town hall meetings where he often jokes freely with members of the community.
But the mayor maintains a firm stance and steely resolve when approached on issues related to the environment and water conservation.
Numerous municipalities throughout British Columbia have adopted environmentally friendly worldviews.
Dawson Creek is one such city, and is known for its land-and-water conscious, and community-based manner of preparing current and future generations for a higher quality of life.
Through long-term community involved planning of water conservation and treatment, modification of outdated and inefficient laws, community development, and lenient taxation on new businesses in the area, Dawson Creek has become one of the most forward thinking and environmentally conscious cities in Canada.
Drought in the region as well as concerns over squandering precious potable water supplies drawn from the Kiskatinaw River have compelled DC’s municipality to construct a massive water reclamation facility slated for completion in the first quarter of 2012. Creating a mutually symbiotic relationship with Shell Canada, the water reclamation project known simply as “Dawson Creek/Shell Canada Water Treatment Project” will help to reduce fresh water consumption by local oil and gas companies by recycling effluent water for reuse in industry as well as city use.
“As a community, we’ve been going through drought for the last four to five years. We have to start looking at alternatives,” stated Bernier. With obvious concerns for the future of the region, the facility will help both DC as well as Shell to assure a consistent flow of water.
But water conservation is also being addressed at a more diminutive, localized level. Since Jan. 1, 2011 Dawson Creek has made some alterations to city water metering and valuation.
Despite the fact that meters have been in place for years in the Dawson Creek area, they were simply employed as measurement devices for tracking commercial and residential water consumption. But with a heightened awareness concerning water conservation, water meters are now utilized to measure and assist the city in both monitoring as well as billing for water used by residents.
Flat rates for water consumption are now a thing of the past since “no real view towards conservation was present… now we’re holding people accountable,” said Bernier. He added that Dawson Creek is “one of the first cities in British Columbia to do this”.
Billing for water used rather than a simple flat rate system for all customers will help the DC to collect much needed funds for water use, while simultaneously compelling its citizens to use water more wisely.
There is no doubt that Bernier and the people of Dawson Creek are trailblazers in the areas of conservation and sustainability in the environment.
This fact is certainly not lost on others in Canada who have recognized DC’s achievements and praised them for their accomplishments. Remarkably, Water Canada presented DC with the H2O Reclamation Recognition award for the construction of the DC/Shell Water Treatment Facility even before its completion. And in 2010, DC was awarded the Hydro Power Smart Excellence Award for Workplace Conservation Leadership for numerous environmentally friendly programs including the Energetic Olympics, the Turn It Off Program as well as myriad other initiatives set into motion by Bernier and company.
Dawson Creek leads by example and many around the world are beginning to take notice.
Community development in Dawson Creek is not limited to water conservation though as the arts and cultural elements of the city are also being targeted for renovation and improvement.
“We have made some huge capital investments building a refurbished arts and culture community center,” said Bernier referring to the Calvin Kruk Centre for the Arts which is scheduled for completion in the fall of 2011. The renovated facility will feature a three story, atrium-style structure with a ceramics and fabric studio, a multi-purpose hall, a coffee bar as well as multiple rooms designed and outfitted for practice and advancement of music and dance.
On top of being a hub for the creative minded residents of Dawson Creek, many also view the facility as a social center providing a meet-and-greet for those coming and going. This attitude is emblematic of the social and community centered attitude of the people in Dawson Creek, an attitude that not only greets familiar faces but welcomes new ones as well.
The pastoral Peace River ties together the Alberta and British Columbia Peace and helps set the stage for some of the most amazing travel anywhere. The River makes its way across the landscape for over 1000 kilometers and along that distance, nature reigns supreme with inspiring scenery, rolling hills, and stunning river banks.
It’s not the usual vantage point for people looking into this area and yet it’s as relevant as the natural resources potential is for any other industry.
“It’s the fourth largest industry here,” said Mighty Peace Tourism Association’s Nicole Halverson, who is located in Alberta. In BC as well, tourism is a going concern and as communities like Tumbler Ridge have discovered, it’s an industry that has added stability to local economies.
The 2007 Northern Rockies Value of Tourism Study showed that the Northern Rockies Regional District, just north of what is generally understood to be the Peace Region, had an estimated 224,200 visitors between Oct. 1, 2006 and Sept. 30, 2007. The study also showed that visitor spending contributes approximately $47,580,000 to the local economy on an annual basis.
In Fort St. John, the 2009 North Peace River Region Value of Tourism Study estimated 223,300 visitors travelled through that area in 2007. Annually, visitors are contributing $73,170,000 to that local economy. Although smaller communities, the combined results for the Districts of Taylor, Hudson’s Hope and Electoral Areas B & C show that there were 47,000 visitors and $9,150,000 in visitor spending annually.
The 2008 South Peace Value of Tourism Study estimated 227,800 visitors travelled through the Dawson Creek area in 2008 and that annual visitor spending is approximately $91,580,000.
It may not seem like a lot when compared to oil and gas contributions however, it is nevertheless an industry that plays a more significant role than people may realize. While there is no shortage of money being pumped into the oil and gas industry, both Halverson and Northern BC Tourism Association community development officer April Moi both agree that money is the biggest challenge in maintaining an effective tourism strategy.
Recent history has only served to highlight that issue. Rising fuel prices in particular posed a real risk to an industry that relied on road travel.
There are any number of things that draw people to the north but two of the strongest attractions are the Alaska Highway in BC and the Mackenzie Highway in Alberta.
One of the innovative solutions to that challenge was to market the north as a destination for motorcyclists.
With everything from wildlife and wilderness to history and culture, a bike lets the visitor experience the region in a way that is unique. Up to 18 hours of daylight in the summer lets travellers make the most of their time and a higher than expected number of sunny days each year makes the prospect of a motorcycle tour that much more appealing.
It may seem odd to outsiders that an area spanning two provinces isn’t able to band together to create one cohesive tourism strategy. Rumblings of intent can be heard on both sides of the border however, this is one situation where the ‘can do’ attitude that pervades the region hasn’t made a lot of headway.
Despite their overall success, provincial tourism people agree that the complexity of an interprovincial strategy has made progress toward a unified strategy slow.
One notable exception is the Deh Cho Travel Connection. Linking the Mackenzie, Liard and Alaska Highways in one circle, the journey is just over 1,800 kilometers starting at Mile Zero of the Mackenzie Highway, through to Mile Zero of the Alaska Highway.
It’s appealing due to its family friendly nature. It’s safe, it’s leisurely and there are many potential stops both for the more rugged traveller and for those that like a hint of civilization thrown in.
There are spots in the region, said Halverson, where there is no Internet or cell service affording travellers a real honest-to-goodness, old-fashioned vacation – one of the main things people come here for.
Campgrounds, lakes, museums, arts and cultural attractions, small rivers ideal for fishing, golf courses, musical events, and fall fairs are only the beginning.
Another strategy to counter fuel costs has been to market the region as a place to stay and visit. There is so much to offer in the region, that residents themselves have become a target demographic.
While the Alberta North is more focused on the outdoors, the BC North has focused a great deal of marketing on the history and experience of the Alaska Highway. Regardless of the differences, there are some underlying similarities that make a northern vacation something to look forward to on both sides of the border. For as many people as come here to work, there are others that come for the pleasure.
There is no doubt that it is the natural resources in one form or another that tie the region together and despite challenges, form a bedrock inexorably linking tourism with the region’s other industries and with the success of local economies.
Located in the northeastern areaof British Columbia at the confluence of the Murray and Wolverine rivers, and only an hour away the Mile 0 City of Dawson Creek and Chetwynd, Tumbler Ridge is one of the youngest communities in British Columbia. Built in the early 1980s around the coal mining industry, this town of 3,000 residents remains strong as a coal mining town even climbing back into prosperity
following the closure of the town’s biggest employer Quintette Mine in August 2000. The closure saw the town’s population drop hard and fast – a situation that officials simply saw as a challenge, thus creating a massive marketing campaign that resulted in the sale of almost 1,000 houses at rock bottom prices – some as
low as $25,000 – to people from all over the world. Those same houses, according to the Economic Development Office, are now worth more than $190,000. Since then the town has expanded their focus to include tourism – concentrating on the unique palaenotological discoveries being made around the community – as well as forestry and gas and
oil exploration. Coal mining has also made a hard and fast return with Western Canadian Coal opening the Dillon Mine in 2003 (now depleted) as well as the Wolverine and Hermann Mines. Peace River Coal has also opened the Trend Mine and currently Teck Coal is investigating re-opening Quintette. And most recently Canadian Dehua International Mines Group is exploring the
possibility of opening the Murray River Project where exploration has discovered an estimated 40 to 50 millions tons of coal per year for 50 years. Kelly Bryan, the District of Tumbler Ridge’s community development officer
says Tumbler Ridge continues to define what opportunity and quality are in Northern BC. “At first glance, it is readily apparent that this town cannot be compared to any other,” Bryan said. “In fact, its design was a social experiment of sorts. Not only was Tumbler Ridge created to retain a stable workforce for the Northeast BC coal project, it was master-planned
in such a way that people would likely choose to live there, regardless of the presence of active coal mining.” Underground utilities, expansive pedestrian-oriented infrastructure and a centralized commercial core, said Bryan, are just a handful of representative samples that reflect Tumbler Ridge’s number one selling feature: its quality of
life. “Many communities boast a superior lifestyle,” Bryan said. “Tumbler Ridge exemplifies it.” In the end, the social experiment worked and it continues to draw in a continuing growing population. In fact, the town was originally designed to accommodate up to 10,000 residents and is
still prepared for that influx. “Estate lots, accessible houses for an aging population and multi-family developments all have a place in the community’s range of desired housing options,” Bryan said. Bryan, who calls Tumbler Ridge a business owner’s dream, believes the
town just about “has it all”. “The only things that seem to be missing at this point in time are operators and service providers that can enhance the experiences Tumbler Ridge has to offer,” he said. “In turn, this has highlighted an immense opportunity for new entrepreneurs
wishing to enter the tourism industry or those that are established, but would like to ‘spread their wings’ in an area that is virtually untapped.” Tumbler Ridge is already home to a multi-million dollar community centre, airport with 4,000 foot runway, health centre that houses the medical, optometric, ambulance, public health, counseling and emergency care, one elementary school and secondary school as well as a local campus of Northern Lights College, a nine-hole golf course and a volunteer fire department.
The community’s Economic Development Outlook and Business Opportunity Summary mentions residents would most likely like to see activities to do in the evenings and winter months. “Two of the most requested forms of entertainment are a proper venue to see movies and a bowling alley/billiards hall.” says the report. In a 2006 survey, which 50 per cent of households participated in residents also requested more restaurant and franchise establishments, a second grocery story, bakery or deli and a butcher.
A more recent arrival is a 102-room hotel, restaurant and conference centre valued at over $10 million and an equipment rental outlet slated to be fully operational in 2011.
According to Bryan, while Tumbler Ridge’s ‘traditional’ industries continue to thrive, the economic horizon holds the potential for the establishment of new, uncharted development opportunities. “With investigative use permits issued for virtually every mountaintop,
Tumbler Ridge’s wind resources have proven to be a lucrative prospect for new, multi-billion dollar green energy projects being proposed for the area,” he said. “The final progression of these projects can stand to bring several years of construction-based activity and a core base of employment.” There are tenures issues for almost every ridge and mountaintop around Tumbler and interest was furthered by the Clean Power Call request for proposals by BC Hydro in 2008. BC Hydro is seeking 5,000 gigawatt hours of electricity and has since secured four wind projects in the area, three from Finavera Renewables and one from Capital Power Corporation.
More recently, Bryan said, the District of Tumbler Ridge has been working with biomass companies for the establishment of a wood-pellet manufacturing plant that would create wealth and new employment from beetle-killed forests, while helping to serve the region’s transition to greener sources of energy. “Tumbler Ridge is no longer that town that had the cheap houses and was about to die,” Mayor Larry White said. “It is a thriving community with new business coming in each week. Our future looks bright with a multitude of investment opportunities waiting to be taken up. It’s the best place in BC.” For more information please contact Kelly Bryan, Community Development Officer at (250)242-4242 ext.236, email@example.com or visit www.investTumblerRidge.com. Or if you just want to visit, check out www.visittumblerridge.ca/.
Fort St. John isn’t just about growth, it’s about growth that lasts. Opportunity in that community isn’t just personal, it’s a community asset. And opportunities abound in an environment that supports the whole community as well as the component parts.
“This is an energetic and entrepreneurial area and it will always draw people,” said Mayor Bruce Lantz. That sentiment was echoed by Chamber of Commerce president Andrew Tylosky.
“There’s opportunity here for anyone that wants it,” he said.
“We’ve got some really great success stories here locally where people that are sometimes seen as competitors are working together and I think we’re very open to doing that in this market. People are willing to complement each other and work together to get the job done. I think that’s a big part of being successful here.”
And as he points out, it’s all about the people. Whether than means providing the right climate for development, family friendly resources or innovative recruitment and retention strategies, Fort St John is willing and welcoming.
With a grow rate of 2.5 per cent, the growth is there but remains sustainable and allows for a more methodical and effective approach to development.
“This is perceived as a growth centre and business people are seeing that they want to be here. It’s prosperous, it’s young, so people are seeing that as a good business environment. But that’s only half of the equation,” said Lantz.
“In order to locate businesses or business offices here, you have to be a family friendly community because those business people will be bringing their spouses and their children.”
A thriving arts and cultural scene, one of the best educational systems in the province (by Ministry of Education definition), great recreational facilities, wonderful outdoor opportunities us and the first new hospital to be built in the province in 20 years currently under construction all build a foundation that supports residents.
“People are prepared to make the investments in this community. They understand that we’re under-served in some areas and since becoming chamber president, I’ve had a lot of conversations with business people, local business people, even people from surrounding areas…saying ‘we’ve got our eye on Fort St. John. It looks like a hot market. Tell us more’,” said Tylosky.
Reserve funds and development cost charges, which Fort St. John is in the process of implementing, will help ensure that growth can pay for itself rather than be downloaded on the backs of taxpayers.
“We’re looking at making our utilities self-sustaining so that they won’t be a drain on the taxpayer except in the sense that they will pay for what they use. Water rates are continually under review so that people who use more will pay more and people who use less will benefit,” explained Lantz.
That doesn’t mean Fort St. John doesn’t have its share of challenges. Like so many other communities, infrastructure remains an issue. Municipalities in Canada are not structured to be financially self-sustaining, he added, and he said he would like to see something done about that.
Transfer payments from the province have been wiped out, and at the same time, municipalities were handed additional responsibilities.
“That stretches the balloon way too tight and something has to burst at some point,” said Lantz.
“The biggest challenge facing virtually any municipality in Canada is infrastructure. Whether a community is growing or not, they have pipes in the ground that are aging and they have to be able to replace those. That’s your infrastructure deficit. Fort St. John has an infrastructure deficit approaching $1 million. In Canada, municipalities face infrastructure deficits of over $31 billion. We can keep pace with the growth that’s coming in. The challenge is to catch up with the aging infrastructure that needs replacing,” said Lantz.
“What we want to see now are discussions with senior government as to how we can have a more equitable system of money transfer coming from senior government to municipalities to help us sustain ourselves and provide the amenities that our citizens not only want to have, but need to have in order to be able to live and work in these municipal environments.”
If successful, Lantz said it would provide a stability and predictability to planning, which would mean a community could plan without automatically assuming there would be tax increases or that borrowing would be necessary. Tax dollars could then be used to defray the infrastructure deficit.
Fort St. John has, despite those issues, been able to do comparatively well both in minimizing tax increases and provident necessary infrastructure. Fort St. John has made the most of provincial opportunities and so Fair Share dollars and other provincial grants have provided an adequate stopgap in dealing with the community’s needs.
“I think we’ve got the infrastructure overall. As far as transportation goes, we still have some challenges – the highways, air travel is a concern of course. The cost of flying in and out of here is very expensive but we have those facilities at least available, which is more than you can say for other areas,” said Tylosky.
Even the recent economic crisis was an opportunity for locals.
“We were hit, but not as bad as a lot of areas. It was, for a lot of companies, it just ended up being a reality check after so many years of going crazy. Fort St. John in 2005 was not a very fun place to be because nobody could find staff, it was frustrating as can be. Running a business, being a citizen, getting services anywhere, it was difficult for a lot of people,” said Tylosky.
“We kind of came through that and in 2008/2009, things were very, very difficult for some of our members. There were some companies that shut their doors and others that seriously had to trim back. There was a lot of fear at the time about what was going on and what was going to happen. Overall, I think, the service industry and our energy companies just took the opportunity to get down to basics, trim whatever fat was in the organization, and everybody’s stronger now because of it.”
Both Tylosky and Lantz agree that being at the centre of the area is a benefit to Fort St. John. Its location at the hub of activity makes the community a natural focal point for both people and business.
As the largest community in not only Northeastern BC, but in all of Northern BC, people look to Fort St. John for leadership and to provide a strong voice that represents concerns that span the region.
“They see Fort St. John as an economic driver for Northeastern BC. When you look at the business community, we have one of the strongest in Northern BC so we have a responsibility to take that leadership role and do something with it,” said Lantz. While that cooperative attitude flows from local government and where realistic, invites Northwestern Alberta communities to joint them, the issue of Alberta/British Columbia competition is still an issue. Businesses and governments alike want to see healthy, fair competition – something that doesn’t always happen at the moment.
“I think, in the energy industry there was a lot of concern about the HST. I think a lot of those things have figured themselves out but competition from Alberta based firms coming into BC to work, buying their gas in Alberta, bringing it across the border, not paying carbon tax on it and using it to compete with BC based firms who are buying their fuel locally and paying whatever it is now, the $0.07/litre fuel tax, that puts a serious competitive pressure on local companies,” said Tylosky.
“And so we put forth a policy last year through the BC Chamber AGM about leveling the playing field and looking at things that can help BC based companies be tax competitive and make sure that the regulations and everything are as streamlined as possible to make sure that it can go both ways and that out of province firms, are paying our taxes, are following our regulations and are doing the same as a BC firm would do.”
It’s not about what can’t be done; it’s about what can. Business and government are both focused on the long term and providing more than uncontrolled growth. They want to see a sustainable environment on all levels that allows those in Fort St. John to take advantage of its opportunities in the moment and for the long-term.
It’s a ‘can do’ place and that attitude has carried Grande Prairie through many ups and downs and is clearly evident in the goals of those in the area. It hasn’t been the best few years but despite that, industrial growth to the tune of $355 million by September attests to an underlying optimism in the region’s development. That’s significantly more than the annual total of $245 million for 2009. And the City of Grande Prairie has identified about $700 million in capital investments.
“When you look at our area we are made up of a lot of sectors, we have the forestry sector, we have the oil and gas sector, we have the retail sector, we have agriculture and also tourism, so when you look at it, there are some that have done reasonably well and others that have struggled,” said Grande Prairie Chamber of Commerce (GPCC) chairperson Dave Cook.
“I think when you look at the industry overall, oil and gas we see a lot of optimism on the oil side, gas prices are still flat, but within the sector there is a great example of variance. In forestry, the pulp sector is doing very well whereas lumber and OSB are still struggling with their markets. And you can say the same in agriculture as well. Cereal crops are commanding good prices, so is canola, whereas cattle where a lot of herds were depleted when prices were low, cattle prices were starting to come up although hogs are still low and are anticipated to be low for some time to come, so again you see a lot of variance within that sector too. Our take on retail is that retail seems to be doing well in Grande Prairie although it’s kind of early to tell. December seems to be the month that really determines how well the retail and the service sector does.”
Grande Prairie Mayor Bill Given agrees that things have certainly slowed down overall but he stressed that doesn’t mean there isn’t still a great deal of investment going on both publically and privately. He is determined to focus on the future and “build a community socially and physically that’s attractive and provides a good quality of life so that when we attract good qualified people to the North, that we’re able to keep them”.
Looking to the future is also on the minds of the county and the Chamber of Commerce membership, and while they report that business confidence is lower than expected (based on the last GPCC member survey), there is still considerable regional optimism for a strong future.
“I love that people in Grande Prairie are ready to make their own way and there’s a certain energy about our community that’s invigourating…in the past we might have called it a pioneer spirit and today we might describe it as entrepreneurialism,” said Given.
“Grande Prairie is recognized as one of the leaders is small business across Canada and I think that speaks a lot to maybe the type of industry that’s here, but also the fact that if somebody has an idea and they feel they can make a go of it they are positioned perfectly in our region to put it out there and do that. I think that’s one of the things that attracts people.”
And as in so much of the North, recruitment and retention is an ongoing issue that is about to become more critical as industry and development projects kick it up a notch.
“We’re strategically located to new developments for the North and I think that we can provide better service than any other major centre anywhere for the needs of the industries…,” said County of Grande Prairie economic development officer Walter Paszkowski.
In the county alone there are already 33,000 miles of road, and estimated 33,100 oil and gas wells, 717 businesses, and 84,004 kilometres of pipeline, 13 parks and 7 golf courses, but it’s not enough.
Currently the abundance of water in the county has no adequate distribution network, for example.
There is widespread agreement that the establishment of a solid infrastructure base is important to the continued growth of the area. City investments in the Art Gallery and the
Aquatic Centre, as well as the county’s efforts to establish a major interpretive centre to showcase the dinosaur fossils of the area, will go far in providing the amenities that people are interested in, but there are also projects less focused on culture, yet no less important to establishing the attractiveness of the area.
“If we can provide excellent health services and also provide the support staff to deliver on that then this is a draw to our area,” said Cook.
The province of Alberta has committed to $500 million toward the construction of a new regional health facility, with an educational component to be run through Grande Prairie Regional College, and a new railway logistics facility in the county with fuel, aggregate, sand, fertilizer and container depots will also add to what the area already offers.
Development projects notwithstanding, infrastructure still poses challenges – cost not being the least of the issues. The boom days brought with them a different mindset about spending and the rate of growth was staggering.
“In a lot of ways we’re still, in a lot of ways, playing catch-up with the growth that we experienced. It wasn’t possible to keep pace and expand at the pace that we needed to during those growing years,” said Given and the community needs to “normalize” and come to terms with the reality that it is no longer a small community but a city of about 55,000 people with an additional nearly 20,000 in the surrounding rural area. And now they need to pay for all this from a more marginal economy.
“A lot of the attention has been on the Wood Buffalo Region and the oil sands and we know they have received some special attention specifically related to water projects. We’re facing a $60 million-capital plan with our water utility here, Aquatera, and a lot of that is directly related to provincial government regulations and there’s no funding that’s attached to those increased regulations and in the Wood Buffalo side my understanding is that they had significant grants and interest free capital loans from the province and so that is a challenge…,” said Given.
“One of our priorities has to be, given the economic situation over the last few years, ensuring that we’re competitive as a municipality; that we have reasonable tax rates that provide a good level of service that people are expecting. We have to recognize that we’re not in the same situation we were in 2005 to 2007 where businesses bottom lines were growing and were very healthy, so we need to find a way to balance off the need to provide the services that businesses and residents expect while we’re providing good value for dollar and keeping and eye on the bottom line, so that’s a real challenge for us,” said Given.
The Chamber of Commerce is in fact concerned with such things as an effective transportations system, utility costs, property taxes and ensuring that the existing workforce is functioning at maximum productivity, said Cook. Although they are the third largest Alberta chamber by membership, over 50 per cent of their membership are companies with less than 10 employees and so those issues become even more critical.
Both the city and the GPCC said they are looking at issues close to home to help them compete and that is not always as simple as it might sound. They have been lobbying the province to address issues pertaining to cross-border trade. Cook reports his group has had some real success in their efforts to date in lobbying for the needs of their membership.
Although challenges and negotiations remain the order of the day, supporting that spirit of entrepreneurialism is an equally passionate spirit of cooperation that is helping to ensure the competitiveness of the area.
The city, the county, the province, the BC Peace, business organizations, educational and financial institutions and the diverse industries of the area are all working closely to create a favourable climate for progress.
“If we look at it, we’re competing on a global scale and we have to recognize that the Peace Country as a whole, irrespective of the provincial boundary is competing with regions in Saskatchewan, regions in the US, and ultimately when we talk about natural resources regions worldwide and so we need to ensure we’re as coordinated as we can be here…we need to find a way to work across the provincial boundary a lot easier,” said Given.
“I think that there’s a lot of opportunity for Grande Prairie to become aware of the situation in the BC side of the Peace…at the very basis we should have good communication across the provincial boundaries and that doesn’t happen very often in my experience because we work under two different provincial governments often times we’re focused on our relationship with them more than we are each other and I think there’s a lot that can be shared between the cities in the area.”
TILMA (Trade and Labour Mobility Agreement) and the new West Partnership Agreement only go so far and “some provincial agencies may not be functioning within the spirit” of those agreements, said Given and he thinks there’s still some work to do there.
Working cooperatively doesn’t mean that there isn’t significant pressure – and desire – to ‘hire local’, but there are problems with that the public is not generally aware of, said Given.
Under TILMA, there are some purchasing regulations (for municipal government sector) that actually prohibit building local preference into purchasing policies,
“That’s a challenge we need to communicate with the public and also with the provincial governments to ensure that they know as municipalities we want to be able to support our local business who are paying local taxes as much as possible,” he added.
“The Peace Region is a little bit of a unique perspective on interprovincial trade because really we function as one region but there’s this border in between that causes some difficulties and we need to ensure that we function as smoothly as possible as one economic region without interference from that boundary.”
Given admits to a certain good natured envy of the Fair Share agreement in particular and said he thinks it has been a very good program for BC but that it seems to have counteracted what was always perceived as the ‘Alberta advantage’. It isn’t enough of a problem to create inter-provincial friction and the province of Alberta has implemented programs that have benefitted Grande Prairie, so in the end, it really is just a case of sibling rivalry so to speak.
“Within a family, which we are in the peace country, you can have a difference of opinion but you can still realize that you’re all in it together,” he added and it’s that attitude that has prompted a real effort to communicate and work with BC Peace municipalities so that everyone is stronger in the global marketplace.
“That’s what the economic downturn has been about – that we’re in a global economy, and I don’t think anyone can deny that now,” said Given.
Grande Prairie can expect new directions, new vision and new vitality over the next few years to carry them into that global market. Given characterized the new city council as “a fairly fresh team” and they will be starting with a blank slate in the spring to establish an equally fresh strategic plan said Given. He is hoping they share his vision of a shared future that takes advantage of the areas diversity, the entrepreneurship that has carried the community this far and the cooperation that will strengthen Grande Prairie for the future.
Fort McMurray has again taken on the role it began with. It started as a resource dependent trading post where people came to win their fortunes, and today people are flocking to the area hoping to make their mark in the oil sands.
While today’s challenges might have a different face than those of 200 years ago, people come determined to meet them head on for the chance at claiming their share of the area’s resources.
“We’re rapidly growing predicated on the industrial expansion of the oil sands resource, but nonetheless, the people that are coming to the community are coming from all over Canada and, in fact, increasingly from all over the world,” said Mayor Melissa Blake.
“We are the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB), which means we consume 68,454 square kilometers of geography. We cover 10 rural communities, one urban centre, being Fort McMurray. It’s roughly a 10th of the province, by mass, adjacent to the Wood Buffalo National Park.”
The fantastic growth of the area has often outpaced the communities’ ability to provide the necessary infrastructure and yet it has also added a rich mix of multiculturalism to the historical cultures of First Nation and aboriginal populations from the region.
Like many other northern communities, the average age of the population is young – in this case, said Blake, about 32 years old. There is also a large part of the population that is transient; coming in to work and disappearing on days off.
Blake estimates that of the region’s 103,000 people, the shadow population accounts for 26,000 of them, with 73,000 of them living in Fort McMurray itself.
“Families do quite well in the urban centre where there is the young population,” Blake said. With just shy of 20 per cent under the age of 19, the community has worked to meet the needs and expectations of younger families she added.
“We’re reasonably equipped for the young families, but the benefits spill over to older people as well,” said Blake.
Recreational opportunities are plentiful year-round and include both indoor and outdoor activities.
Trails, parks and nearby forests provide a diverse playground and the newly completed MacDonald Island, Suncore Community Leisure Centre hits the mark for just about everyone in the community in some way or another, boasts Blake, and she isn’t exaggerating.
The facility’s list of amenities is long and includes arenas, mini-ice, leisure pond, curling rink, aquatic centre, banquet and meeting rooms, indoor field houses, indoor running track, fitness centre, racquetball and squash courts, golf simulator, The Upper Deck Lounge, concessions, child-minding centre and indoor playground.
“We’ve been adding new schools as we’ve added new population,” said Blake. “Because of our multiculturalism and because we are approaching critical mass in the population, we are really looking at the arts and cultural opportunities as well as we develop the next assets for the community. We’ve always has some basic level there but I think we can step it up.”
When other communities consider themselves to have aggressive growth at a three per cent a year increase in population, RMWB has experienced three times that rate for an extended time. Stepping anything up when you can just keep up is indeed a lofty goal.
“The normal systems are not adequate to keep up with it, so I can’t raise taxes enough to deal with it, I can’t get enough grants from other levels of government to deal with it, so it really is a unique circumstance,” said Blake.
“The pace of growth had been overwhelming. The recession helped a whole lot in terms of us getting some of the critical infrastructure completed, but as we go forward, if we find robust times as we did before we really need to do a better job of matching what the community can deliver to what is coming down the road at us.
“When you have systems that are out of sync, you have less housing than demand, which drives the prices up and once they go up, it’s really hard to come down so (we need to) prevent that from happening as opposed to reacting when it has.”
One of the biggest challenges the region has faced is ensuring adequate transportation resources. Industry, said Blake, has not been given enough credit for what they are doing to alleviate the problem. They have developed an elaborate busing system for employees to ease traffic congestion.
“Any site that you could work on in the region will provide busing services from your neighbourhood to the site and back at the end of the day. There’s an awful lot of bus ridership from an industrial perspective,” said Blake.
The bigger picture has been somewhat bleak in the past, but Blake reports that situation is starting to turn around and points out there have been some unexpected benefits to the heavy industrial traffic as well.
“Transportation is very interesting. Again, we are geographically spread out, even in the urban centre you couldn’t walk from one neighbourhood to a different neighbourhood very easily just because there is a lot of territory between those neighbourhoods,” she said.
There is a public transit system but, Blake pointed out while it is certainly used, it might not be as adaptable as some would like it due to the vehicle dependent culture.
“As the community expands we’re obviously adding more roads into residential areas, but this kind of expansion has necessitated a major change of provincial infrastructure,” explained Blake.
Highway 63 is the only north-south route through Fort McMurray from half way to Edmonton through to the work sites in the north of the region.
There is a third bridge being constructed across the Athabasca River and two new overpasses under construction for heavily populated areas. These additions are expected to help the traffic flow more smoothly.
Still a few years from completion, the construction adds to the delays in the short-term but over the long haul, “we should be breathing a whole lot easier about the ability to move from one end of town to the other”, said Blake, unless there is another surge in population numbers.
Air traffic too has been impacted by industry growth. The increased number of people coming to the area on work related trips has resulted in more and more flights to more and more destinations.“If you have that accessibility, it becomes easier for regular people to jump on those planes and take advantage as well,” said Blake.
In addition to the impact industry has had on the accessibility of air travel, they have impacted the area in other positive ways as well. Corporate sponsorship, contributions to non-profit organizations and the additional revenue from tax all help to balance the less attractive aspects of industrial development.
“With the small urban businesses and all the rural businesses including industry, they’re covering about 93 per cent of the tax burden which means the citizens who are also paying a far lower share for all of the amenities are able to enjoy because of those contributions,” Blake said.
At the end of the day, no matter how frustrating the challenges of a rapidly growing area can be, people believe it’s worth it for what they can gain, and once in the area, many gain perspective on the community.
“We get an awful lot of attention and some of it is heavily biased for one purpose or another – which is not necessarily an accurate portrayal of the community at all,” said Blake. She has her own perspective after spending many years there.
“I would tell you that we live in an amazing region with natural beauty that surrounds us and that every citizen here cares as much about the air that we breathe, the water that we drink and the impacts that we have on the environment as anybody anywhere would. The reflections don’t represent the true character of the region.”
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In this issue:
• Safety: Bill of Goods or Best Practices?
• Forestry Rebound
Oil sands image linked to cooperation
CALGARY – Oil sands company leaders hope collaborative endeavours will improve their image.
The latest alliance, Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA), was announced at a Calgary press conference early March.
Talisman announces sale agreement
CALGARY - Talisman Energy announced an agreement with Xstrata Coal to sell certain non-producing, non-core coal properties located in northeastern British Columbia for US$500 million in cash.