If the Industrial Heartland is going to remain successful in bringing industry to the region, co-operation between municipalities and the planning organizations is key, according to Neil Shelley, executive director of Alberta’s Industrial Heartland Association.
“When industry comes here, they don’t see the imaginary lines that separate municipalities. They see the region as a whole,” Shelly said. “If they saw the Heartland as five separate organizations or municipalities, I think it would be a lot less effective than it has been.”
When the Industrial Heartland Association was first founded 15 years ago, it was one of the first co-operative organizations of its kind. The key to its success, he said, is regional co-operation.
“I’m very happy that this is a good model of co-operation. Everyone gets together and works on bringing in industry first and that produces benefits for everyone,” said Shelly.
Laurie Danielson, executive director of the Northeast Capital Industrial Association echoed Shelly’s comments stating that aligning area structure plans between municipalities to effectively erase political borders, has been a huge benefit to the region.
“There are lots of benefits of regional co-operation. Industry locates in certain regions based on a number of reasons, largely driven by economics, availability of resources and availability of land,” he said, noting that the Heartland has been great and coming together and marketing to those needs.
But the region isn’t without its challenges either. Fort Saskatchewan Mayor Katchur said one of the challenges she sees is ensuring that industry locates in the area of the Heartland that makes the most sense for their specific case. Sturgeon County Mayor Tom Flynn agreed, saying it is more important for industry to find the best spot within the Heartland based on their water, rail, pipeline and feedstock availability needs rather than political boundaries.
Katchur said that there have been cases where municipalities within the Heartland do try to attract industry to their own municipality, even though it may not be the best fit.
“It’s a challenge when (a Heartland partner municipality) wants to overstep the boundaries and woo indutry to their own municipality,” she said. “It’s not frequent but it does happen. We have to stay focused and keep the focus that regional is better than local.”
She said working together is incredibly important because each municipality has different levels of land available, but a municipality on its own isn’t going to be able to attract industry like a whole region can.
“What (the Heartland) brings to the table is that we are not just one municipality, we are a region that wants to be noticed,” said Katchur.
Flynn said that overall, he feels the region co-operates well as a whole.
“All of the municipalities work very well together on planning how we attract industry. Everyone is very co-operative and I think it’s a good model for future development,” he said. “The challenge for us in a global market is getting people in invest in Canada, then Alberta then the Capital Region long before we talk about what municipality a project might go into.”
But Flynn said there are some challenges that the region will still have to focus on to solve. One challenge acknowledged was that some industry is having difficulty finding suitable land for their specific projects.
“There are several large land holdings that nothing is happening with, which restricts other development that could be happening there,” he said. “But it will be good for those industries who own land once they decide to build.”
He also pointed to transportation as an issue that the region still needs to solve.
“We need to get all of these people to and from work. The road system wasn’t well designed for what’s happening here now,” said Flynn.
Lamont County Reeve Wayne Woldanski said the Industrial Heartland was “an excellent example of regional co-operation.”
He said the common goals of the municipalities has created immense benefits for the regions including countless jobs and economic benefits. Another benefit was the ability for the smaller municipalities like Lamont to be able to leverage the economic development expertise of not only the Heartland Association but also the other partner municipalities.