The importance of identifying transportation needs within the Peace Country

Dan Dibbelt
Smoky River Regional
Economic Development
There is a lot to be said for vision, especially in terms of economic development. This is true for an entrepreneur looking to start a new business and true for a government looking to encourage investment and development.

Last fall the Alberta government announced a new grant, the CARES grant, intended to assist municipalities and regional partners in nurturing economic projects for their municipalities and region.

It is a brilliant grant, in particular during these financially difficult times.

In addition to the municipal grants, the regional alliance (10 of them scattered around the province) each received $100,000 for larger regional projects.

The Smoky River region sits in the territory of the Peace Region Economic Development Alliance (PREDA) an alliance of 27 municipalities plus post-secondary, community futures and industry.

PREDA is the largest alliance covering some 132,000 square kilometers and more than 80,000 people. Despite its size, it receives the same funding as every other alliance. That can be a challenge. How do you appease so many municipalities over such a large territory with minimal dollars?

A simple answer is that it requires vision and innovation. PREDA has partnered with their northern partner REDI (Regional Economic development Initiative for Northwest Alberta) which encompasses Mackenzie County to work on two regional projects.

The first is a report that will identify all commodities that are grown, forested, drilled or mined in our region. Then it will assess how those commodities are transported out of the region, where they are going and what the final end product is for that specific commodity.

The rationale for that is threefold. First identify exactly what commodities we have in our region. Second is to identify how they are transported and finally once they reach their end destination, what does the end user do with the product.

What PREDA hopes to determine is opportunities for value-added industries for PREDA municipalities. If we know we are transporting forest products by train to the west port for a final destination in Chine where they will make furniture for sale in Canada, perhaps we can create an industry here for some form of furniture manufacturing on a domestic scale.

The importance of identifying what transportation is used and what route it takes is so that we can identify the need for any potential routes that would make transportation more cost effective. The information that is gathered regarding transportation would be passed on to the Northern Alberta Transportation Advocacy Bureau, of which the M.D. of Smoky River No. 130 is a member.

They would use this information, along with other work they are doing to identify transportation routes that are a priority for northern Alberta. While these projects may seem rather visionary and unachievable, they are necessary. The need to research, these larger projects is necessary to whittle them down to smaller scale opportunities we can achieve.

Will these projects see an east west connector built between Wood Buffalo and the Peace Region? Will these projects see furniture factories created in the region? Will this work see the development of a large value-added agricultural industry take off in our region? Perhaps not.

But remember that in 1871 British Columbia was lured into Confederation under the promise of a transcontinental railway – a railway 1,600 km longer than the US Transcontinental. And remember back then Canada was a mere 3.5 million people, less than the population of Alberta today.

Sometimes a vision can become reality, but only if you work towards it.

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