Sunday, September 26, 2010

Economic Growth- Alberta Style?

How has the average Alberta community coped with economic growth in the past three decades? It’s about the same way a cowboy copes in the bucking chute as he waits for the bronc under him to settle down. He pulls down his hat, grits his teeth and nods his head; yells, “Let ‘er rip”, and hangs on for dear life.
There’s got to be a better way. The rodeo ride only lasts for ten seconds, but the economic and psychological impact of our boom and bust cycles has affected generations of generations of Albertans.
Yet economic growth is the fuel driving a community’s aspirations. What is the right kind of economic growth for active, committed, and engaged communities?
Growth driven from within the community enhances sustainability. A community supporting local businesses helps itself by creating new jobs boosting the local economy. Contrast the long-term community impact of locally-owned businesses with “here today, gone tomorrow” developments typified by the call center operations that seduced and then abandoned Lethbridge and Edmonton.
Economic growth should be consistent with the community’s values and aspirations. Should a community valuing its pristine air and water pursue large-scale garbage-recycling operations? Does a community priding itself on its’ tranquil, family-friendly social environment pursue economic growth resulting in a large influx of transient workers?
Some communities are paying the price for rapid, uncontrolled economic growth driven by industry promises to come or remain in the community if their demands are met. Yet there are also examples of significant economic growth that support a community’s values. Alix, Alberta, located between Red Deer and Stettler, is a community where a large-scale business supports local values and goals. Rahr Malting, a key driver in the local economy, actively supports community activities, and is a key steward of the community’s crown jewel, Lake Alix.
Seasoned bronc riders don’t pull the pin on the chute gate until they know they are ready, and communities don’t have to jump at every fast-talking promoter waving the promise of jobs. Communities don’t have to pursue developers lacking both the will and the resources required to remediate the negative community impacts of their operation. They can choose to exercise extra-special wariness when the developer is playing communities against each other.
It’s municipal election time, and citizens should know where their Council candidates stand on economic development. Do potential leaders favor planned development consistent with community values and aspirations? Or do they subscribe to the “never-seen an economic development proposal I didn’t like” philosophy guiding much of Alberta for the last thirty years? Smart voters will want clear answers to those questions before nodding their heads in the voter’s booth.
Next post- the lowdown on social growth

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Les...great blog. You've clearly explained why it is so important to discuss and articulate vision and values for our communities. In boom or bust, these become an important filter for decision making.