It is the ratepayers not living in the city that make a city successful

Dan Dibbelt
Smoky River Regional
Economic Development
A friend of mine was recently telling me about an initiative of the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties (AAMDC) intended to educate large urbans (cities) and the people that live there about the value of small urbans and rural municipalities, including the value they contribute to a city’s existence.

The challenge is, cities make up more than half of our provinces population and most urban dwellers really don’t understand what rural Alberta contributes to our province as well as to our large urbans. Large urbans often feel that they are of benefit to smaller municipalities because of the recreational, entertainment and shopping attractions they offer.

We can pontificate all we want about the importance of shopping local and supporting our local businesses in our towns, villages and rural areas, but most rural residents will make, at least occasionally, a trip to the city to do some shopping. Most of us will go to take in a movie, see a concert, go to the climbing wall or some other recreational attraction or get in some shopping.

Rural residents must go to the city for most provincial and federal government services, to catch a flight for work or holidays or to see a medical specialist.

Even the most dedicated “shop-local” supporter will from time to time head to the city for one reason or another. The opposite seldom happens.
Most city dwellers do not venture out to our small urban or rural areas, unless it is for a camping trip, some sledding or perhaps to attend one of the kids sporting events.

The large urbans, and I am going to pick on Grande Prairie, because it is the largest urban in northwest Alberta relies very heavily on all residents in rural northwest Alberta. Grande Prairie has just under 70,000 residents.

But when marketing to attract investment and new businesses, they like to promote the fact that they have a drawing radius of more than 250,000 people. They use that number to help justify a new coffee shop, a large retailer or perhaps a new industrial manufacturer.

The City of Grande Prairie is not wrong for promoting their trade area, but the reality is that those new businesses go to Grande Prairie, because they know that all those people from that radius of some 200km do in fact go to Grande Prairie.

Different business requires a certain population to ensure their viability in that community.

As an example, a grocery store normally requires about 4,000 people in the radius to ensure the store is viable.

The Smoky River region is a bit of an anomaly as we have three grocery stores with a regional population of about 4,500, and yet they seem to be pulling their weight. Perhaps Smoky residents are very loyal to our local stores.

Larger retailers and name brand coffee shops and fast food and franchise restaurants also look for a certain magic number before considering a location. The fact that people from through the Peace and Smoky region head to Grande Prairie, allows Grande Prairie to use those numbers to attract more business. Business, in turn attracts more business. And so on.

Grande Prairie has the advantage of being just over an hour from the BC border where provincial sales tax can make products substantially more expensive and so they benefit from BC shoppers. Should the Alberta government ever decide to implement a sales tax, Grande Prairie would experience a significant decline in BC shoppers.

Alberta’s carbon tax will have a small impact on BC shoppers as it helps level the playing field between the two provinces.

As Alberta’s debt continues to climb, as provincial sales tax may be the only realistic way to manage the budget.

If that was implemented the communities such as Grande Prairie would suffer the most. And then they will rely even more on the small urban and rural residents to support their community.

This is what the large urbans need to understand. It is the ratepayers not living in the city that make a city successful.

If Grande Prairie did not have the small urbans and rurals supporting their business sector, it would be a very different city.

It is time the larger urbans started adapting an attitude of working together with their rural counterparts and it is time they realized regional does not mean in the big city.

Roads go both ways and perhaps it is time people in the large urbans ventured out and discovered that.

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