The Incredible Growth of a Young, Vibrant Community in Alberta
City of Airdrie, AB
Airdrie has been one of Canada’s fastest-growing cities for the past fifteen years, and it continues to see an average of over five percent growth annually. Approximately nine new residents move into the community every day, and one of the main reasons for this rapid growth is the city’s location on the Calgary-Edmonton corridor at the intersection of the Queen Elizabeth II Highway and Highway 567.
The city is also only fifteen minutes to the Trans-Canada Highway and fifteen minutes north of the Calgary International Airport. Logistically, it is in an ideal place for all manner of lifestyle, business and industry.
The economic development department focuses on business outreach, investment attraction, and working with local entrepreneurs. It has recently developed an Economic Strategy to improve workforce and focus on placemaking. “Being a fast-growing city, we never have a problem of bringing people in, but we want to get a better sense of the types of skill sets that our residents have and how can we work with industry to try to match the two,” says City of Airdrie Economic Development Team Leader Kent Rupert.
It is not surprising that some of the residents of Airdrie commute to Calgary for work; however, it is interesting to note that twenty-five percent of the workforce in Airdrie is commuters coming from Calgary. This two-way traffic is a result of the ongoing development on the Stoney Trail freeway which allows more residents to work across the region and ensures that there is no workforce shortage in Airdrie.
Airdrie does not charge a business tax, and Alberta, in general, has a favourable tax environment for businesses. Unlike some other rural areas, it does not have a machinery tax, so the sole tax for a business is the property tax, which makes it a more affordable option. The city also has a lower-than-average mill rate on the residential, commercial, and industrial levels.
“Traditionally we’ve always focused on transportation logistics, manufacturing, and professional services. Those were our three key target sectors, but now agri-business is going to be our fourth one,” says Rupert. The agricultural sector has always been present in the community, but it has been somewhat lacking in representation. The agriculture and forestry section of the provincial government has an agriculture centre in Airdrie, and in recent years, it has seen an increase in business. In Airdrie’s Economic Strategy, agri-business has been identified as an area of focus for further development.
Many of the workforce opportunities and major employers in the area are in the oil and gas industry such as the global companies Propak Systems Ltd. and United Safety. Other large employers include FortisAlberta Inc., Techmation Electric & Controls Ltd., the City of Airdrie, and the Rocky View School Board. A Costco wholesale distribution centre serves all of Western Canada from here, employing many people, and TransCanada Turbines provides overhaul, repair services, and maintenance for aeroderivative industrial gas turbines – gas turbines in which the flow of heated air powers the turbine.
The city expanded its limits to add a significant portion of land that it will use for industrial and residential property. “In 2012, we annexed over 12,000 acres, and that’s for our future development both on residential and industrial, and right now we’re working on a plan for six quarter sections in the northeast area of Airdrie known as ‘East Points.’ We’ll be bringing those lands on in the next few years as our next big industrial land play,” says Rupert.
Many of the cities in the region surrounding Calgary have been experiencing rapid growth, yet Airdrie stands out among those communities since it is the second largest municipality in the area with all the necessary services available and access to downtown Calgary within a half-hour drive.
“The reasons for businesses are the same reasons for residents in terms of value for money, proximity to airports, proximity to a great highway system, et cetera. There are a lot of reasons to explain the growth,” says City of Airdrie Community Growth Manager Stephen Utz. The community growth division was established in 2017 to integrate the departments that assist a business or resident. It focuses on planning, building inspections, and overall community development.
The cost of living here is more affordable than it is in the larger nearby cities, although it is beginning to become more comparable to Calgary’s prices. The appeal is in the quality of life attainable with a population of almost 70,000 rather than almost 1.2 million. Airdrie has safe neighbourhoods, nearby mountains, and close access to Calgary’s many amenities.
The community is made up of young families and professionals with the average age being only thirty-three. As a young community, Airdrie is continually building new schools, and is fortunate to have established a close working relationship with the provincial government. Approximately one new school is built every year to supply the growing population, and the city is also working with the province to set up more access from the highway with overpasses, interchanges, and off-ramps that will improve accessibility both north and south of the highway for residential and commercial areas.
In early 2017, at the request of the City Council, the organization asked residents for their visions for the downtown “Most of our residents identified the fifty acres closest to our main street as the core downtown area, and now we’re engaged in a downtown revitalization plan,” says Utz. “The downtown provides a key economic opportunity for the city of Airdrie, and there is certainly opportunity for redevelopment, especially with our existing servicing and transportation systems in the downtown, which are presently a bit underutilized. That could provide a great opportunity for residents and the city as a whole.”
The City hired a tourism development officer last August to assist with the area’s increasing sports and community event tourism and capitalize on those visitors. Airdrie has hosted the Alberta 55 Plus Games; it hosted the Alberta Summer Games, and next year, it will host the 2020 Alberta Winter Games. The tourism coordinator identified a potential group of visitors to target: the family and friends of sports players who show support by travelling with the team. When those people are here for the day or weekend for a sporting event, the city wants to showcase its amenities to the newcomers.
One unique aspect of the city is that it is a very pet-friendly community, and all of the hotels are designed to host animals as well as humans. The Woodside Golf Course even allows dogs to join their owners on Sundays.
A primary hurdle is that it does not have a hospital within the city. There are health services that cover most medical needs; however, the lack of a hospital is a deterrent for some. “We have a group called the Airdrie & Area Health Co-op, and it’s a group of doctors that have come together to start looking at how health should be done differently and really putting health in the hands of individuals versus the system,” says Rupert.
However, the city has a history of advocating for better healthcare and taking action to address the health needs of the community. The city is looking to work with an organization called Blue Zones, a program based on principles that lead to residents living longer and healthier lives, to make Airdrie Canada’s first Blue Zones-certified community.
The city of Airdrie hopes to become known as the place to be, and its efforts such as the downtown revitalization initiative are making this happen. “When you look at our population growth and the way it trends, within a generation, we could be Alberta’s third most populous city, and that provides the opportunity to become a regional, even a provincial player. For us, it’s about reaching that goal and making sure that we’re doing things now that set us up for that future success,” says Utz.