Editorial – While waiting for oil’s return

Jeff Burgar

One day soon, another bright local politician will get the idea “we need an economic development officer.”

Or more. Or a bigger budget for the existing department.

It’s a fun thing to do. Finding office space. Setting terms. Increasing taxes to pay for it all. Figuring out limits of authority and how to make it all work.

Getting chambers of commerce and boards of trade or whatever, and other governments in the region, all on board. It all really gives people the feeling they are “doing something” and “building the community.”

Development “To Do” lists start out really big. Everything is on the table. Community hall. Skateboard park. Rec centre. Chain restaurants. Stores. Mobile home parks. Roads to resources. A dealership to service all those customers going someplace else. Revitalization. Apartments. Gosh, there so much that needs doing!

Usually, $100,000 or $500,000 or a million dollars later, the “To Do” list is pretty much empty. All those big and little projects are finished. Or are “works in progress coming, coming, one of these days. The letters are all out there.” Or have died a natural death, it decided nobody wants to invest in that “really good” idea.

All this is not to say economic development offices of any kind are a bad idea. Heck, so-called “downtown revitalization” is a great idea. Ecdev officers love the idea. Nice pictures and sketches. New signs. Trees and shrubs. Benches.

Peace River has a nice park on an old gas station site. High Prairie has spent 20 years trying the same thing and made not an inch of progress. Oh, well! Revitalization is always a crowd pleaser.

There are as many approaches to growing a community as there are people. Some are big picture, like looking for money first before coming up with ideas. Or instead, having a laser focus on a specific project idea. Like restarting a dead economic development program, to building another church.

Tourism is one example. Northern Alberta, the largest geographic sector for tourism in the province, is also the smallest business-wise for tourism. Calgary and area, the largest, is five times bigger. Even the Rockies area is financially less important than either Edmonton or Calgary individually. The biggest reason is likely because anybody travelling to the two cities, if even for visiting relatives or a bit of shopping, is spending money. The Rockies and resorts just don’t have accommodation to look after huge numbers of people. Most visitors are on to BC anyway.

Some areas of the north have nothing except local clubs like golf and ski. Some have general interest groups, like Mighty Peace. The end result however is, northern Alberta still has the smallest tourism sector, but the largest geographic area, in Alberta.

There is much room to grow. From jet-boating and rafting on rivers, to fishing and camping, to trail hiking. That the north still sits at just four per of the total provincial tourist business says we still haven’t figured out much.

Share this post