Seizing Opportunities in the Heartland

Fort Saskatchewan

Change is inevitable. It is the response to change that determines resourcefulness, innovation and vision. The seizing of opportunity and its precursor, preparation, are the determinants to growth and more importantly, success.

It’s imperative to be ready when opportunity knocks. This is true for life in general, and equally true for communities across this country hoping to secure the necessary advancements to enable prosperity.

“There are always challenges associated with growth,” says Gale Katchur, Mayor of Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta. “Three percent is typically sustainable growth; we’ve been growing at five to 6.5 percent annually for a number of years. It means that we have to step up our game to make sure that we have a vision for the future.”

Located 25 kilometres northeast of Edmonton along the North Saskatchewan River, Fort Saskatchewan is situated in Alberta’s Industrial Heartland, the largest industrial area west of Toronto. With a population of 22,000, the city of Fort Saskatchewan is a thriving city diversified in its industrial and commercial sectors. The city is intent on attracting new businesses to their city of opportunity, and Gale wants businesses to know that, “Fort Saskatchewan is known as being competitive. Businesses putting their offices here understand that we are the best location, that we are the gateway to Alberta’s Industrial Heartland.”

Maintaining essential infrastructure

The River Valley Alliance (RVA) has launched a capital project worth $90 million for improvements to public access to the North Saskatchewan River and valley. This funding will provide upgrades to the existing infrastructure for the 74 kilometres spanning five municipalities within the valley, Fort Saskatchewan included. Fort Saskatchewan’s share of $3.1 million will be for its 13 kilometres of trails and trail heads that run from the city’s waterfront to nearby Strathcona County. The project will benefit the city environmentally, economically and socially by creating a strong vibrant community for its future.

“The River Valley is key in Fort Saskatchewan… it really is what started the community, being adjacent to the North Saskatchewan River,” says Terry Stacey, Fort Saskatchewan’s Director of Economic Development. “It’s a continuing project that has been underway for a number of years, and keeps expanding,” she adds. “It leads to that quality of life and what people are looking for in a community in which they want to live.” Both the provincial and federal governments funded two-thirds of the project, the Alberta government fully supporting the RVA’s vision for the Valley. “The project is passive recreational,” notes Gale.

Incentives for business

Over 40 major world-class companies call Alberta’s Industrial Heartland region home. Acting as the gateway to heavy and medium industrial growth means that Fort Saskatchewan is the location of choice for both new and existing businesses. The city’s close proximity to multinational facilities such as Dow Chemical, Sherritt International, Agrium and Shell Canada means jobs, especially in the service and supply sectors.

Gale shares that these companies together employ over 7000 people. “[These companies] have provided us a unique cluster of petro-chemical fertilizer and hydro carbon industries,” she explains. She also notes that it’s important to understand the strong industrial base in Fort Saskatchewan and how businesses can grow in the area by servicing those industries. “Reaching out into the oil sands in Fort McMurray and beyond, they can find those partnerships in Alberta,” she says, adding that more importantly, these industries support local people and initiatives.

And if the proximity to Alberta’s oil sands isn’t convincing enough, perhaps Fort Saskatchewan’s cost for serviced industrial land may provide the incentive. “Our cost for serviced industrial land is some of the best in the whole Edmonton capital region,” relates Terry. “The land mass is here and we have great partners in a company called Trans America group that is the land developer trying to put together the right opportunities for businesses that are looking.” Businesses can choose as much or as little land as required, shares Gale, noting that, “Some of our competitors simply don’t have the land mass that we do at this point in time.”

In terms of the city’s long terms goals the question to be addressed will be: ‘Where is our vision for the future?’ Gale acknowledges that, “The city will need to look for additional land base as we continue to grow. The high level is talking about our transit corridors, our pipelines. When we look at our city from 10,000 feet, we can say, ‘we know where we’re growing.’”

Terry agrees that Fort Saskatchewan is, quite simply, a “business friendly community.” New business owners receive information about the process of getting their business up and running through Fort Saskatchewan’s Economic Development staff. “Our incentives for trying to get businesses to come in to the community are that this is the right place for them to be located,” she explains. “Businesses have to see the value of why they need to be here and how they can be successful… any business needs the customers, whether you’re a commercial or industrial business. You’ve got the customers here.”

Gale adds that, “We have low average housing prices and rent… we have what you need here to make your business successful or if you’re just looking for a great community. We’re a very open and welcoming community.”

Partners for growth

To this end, there are a number of organizations that act as key partners in striving to ensure Alberta’s Industrial Heartland’s sustainable growth.

One such organization is Alberta’s Industrial Heartland Association (AIHA), a nonprofit association created in 1998 by the Heartland’s five municipalities and guided by the principle of responsible development. All municipalities share in a cooperative and proactive approach to industrial development in the Heartland, recognizing the major impacts industrial activities may have on surrounding communities. “The industry that is located within the Alberta Heartland area has been here for almost 60 plus years,” says Terry. “The different types of industries that are coming into the area are here because of the synergies that they can see with the existing industry with what they want to be able to do in the future.”

As well, the Northeast Capital Industrial Association (NCIA), also a nonprofit cooperative, has been supporting sustainable growth and reducing environmental impacts from industrial development in the Heartland for over 30 years. The NCIA supports initiatives related to environmental monitoring and management, particularly in the petro-chemical and service industries.

“They deal with the existing industry that is here,” Gale explains. The NCIA works in conjunction with the AIHA in talks regarding strategic planning. It’s about discovering where Fort Saskatchewan can be most effective with the governments both provincial and federal, and with environmental regulations. Both organizations are “quite independent of each other,” adds Gale. “It’s really about making sure we have good synergies. We need to know when to lead and when to follow for both sides of it… it’s something very important to us.”

Attracting multi-nationals

Terry shares that just recently a module yard and fabrication facility has acted on its interest in locating to Fort Saskatchewan. Yanda Canada, based in Shanghai, produces quality equipment for the chemical and energy industry for the world’s more prominent companies.

The Yanda plant will be the first plant outside of Canada to build on 18 acres in Fort Saskatchewan. The company will build a 50,000 square foot shop and have 39 outdoor module building bays specializing in oil sands development. It will be opened in 2014 and employ a staff of 150. It is hoped that with the opening of Yanda Canada other Asian firms familiar with the company will consider looking at the Industrial Heartland to do business as well.

A city both ready and prepared

Terry relates that Fort Saskatchewan has to remain conscious about its future – how it moves forward. “Because of the growth that we’re having we have to be even more competitive… we have to be out there marketing ourselves.” She encourages businesses to have their supply and services companies closer to them which will reap benefits. With $22 million in announced industry coming to Fort Saskatchewan, “We have been preparing for this for over 15 years as the Alberta Industrial Heartland. We’re ready for it,” Terry adds.

For her part, Mayor Katchur is deeply devoted to the place that she calls home. She wants businesses, both commercial and industrial, to see Fort Saskatchewan as a city prepared for a diversification of opportunities. “We are a thriving community and we offer so much to the global world,” she says. “We’re not on the edge of discovery; we are being discovered. Fort Saskatchewan is the community of choice. We’ve got it all.”

May 25, 2020, 3:58 PM EDT