Rocky View County's ability to attract a wide range of commercial and industrial development is not only paying dividends to county homeowners but creating jobs for the entire region.
Success stories continued to roll in throughout 2020, and the revenue it's creating for the county makes it an economic powerhouse and job creator in the province.
"For the first time in the history as a county (established in 1955), the tax revenue from commercial and industrial assessments was actually larger than residential revenue," says David Kalinchuk, RVC economic development officer.
The most recent assessment saw a 15.2 per cent increase in revenue from commercial/industrial land. Those properties were assessed at $39.1 million, compared to the $33.9 million for all RVC residential property and farmland.
It's successes like this that allowed the county to maintain one of the lowest property tax rates in the region, and offer a highly-competitive business property tax.
According to a year-end report by RVC Reeve Dan Henn, over 2020 and the coming 2021 fiscal year, its council has approved a 2.5 per cent property tax reduction for all Rocky View County residents and business owners. It comes at a time when it's facing financial pressure from an increase in RCMP costs and lesser revenue from oil energy companies, both mandated by the provincial government.
In 2020, both Amazon and Sobey's announced an increased presence in Balzac's High Plains Industrial Park. As well, Lowe's Canada is developing its Western Canada bulk distribution centre in the same industrial park.
Numerous other developments are occurring elsewhere in the county, including G3 Canada Limited's state-of-the-art grain terminal with a one-mile loop track near Keoma that's just coming online.
He says Rocky View County is currently one of the three hot spots for assessment growth in Western Canada and has told the same to Transportation minister Ric McIver, who chairs the Western Transportation Advisory Council (Westac), while discussing provincial infrastructure priorities.
"I've chatted with Minister McIver and said if we could do a heat map of the province and show where commercial and industrial assessment growth is really happening, the Balzac area in Rocky View County would light up like a Christmas tree."
Kalinchuk is confident the county's success will continue.
"Despite COVID, despite economic headwinds, and low oil prices, Rocky View County is still growing and I'm pretty confident our 2020 numbers--when we see those assessment reports come in March or April--will still be positive."
In 2001, Kalinchuk became the county's first economic development professional and created its first economic development strategy.
To its advantage, Rocky View County is next to Alberta's business capital, has a diverse landscape, and transportation logistics.
"Everything was a blank slate," says Kalinchuk. "We identified the right sectors that turned out to work extremely well for the county."
Now the county is looking to building upon that strong foundation.
"Where I would like to see real growth now is in that value-add portion of all those sectors"
Those sectors include logistics, wood and building products, oil and gas, and agriculture.
He points to the example of exploring the opportunity to attract companies working in the growing plant proteins field.
"You dove-tail all the logistics advantages, labour force advantages, energy advantages to determine how to turn plant protein into a major area of growth over the next three years."
Kalinchuk references growing up in Manitoba farm country when talking about how he and Cole Nelson, RVC corporate business development manager, pursue new opportunities for the county.
"We're constantly meeting with folks, constantly looking at new investments that could come to our county. It's essentially planting seeds. It could take a year to germinate into a facility investment or three or five.... three and five-year windows on prospects is not usual in economic development."
He says the county has ties with surrounding municipalities and government officials, but landowners, developers, and brokers, in particular, have proven to be the key partners in attracting investment.
It also doesn't hurt to have the president of CN arrived from Montreal to declared the Calgary area as the transportation hub of Western Canada and establish its $250 million inland hub in Conrich.
"It's not Winnipeg, it's not Edmonton, it's not Regina, it's not Vancouver--it's Calgary region, and that's why you've seen all these companies come into the county. That kind of a statement from that kind of a leader through CN speaks volumes. It's huge."
Kalinchuk says RVC's success in attracting these companies benefits the entire region, including Cochrane.
"The jobs that are being created in the county are really landing with citizens that live in our urban centres; specifically Airdrie, Cochrane, Calgary, Chestermere, Irricana, Beiseiker, Crossfield. So, when you get a workforce requirement of 1,000 or 1,500 or 3,000 people overnight, those jobs are for people in the region, because the county doesn't have that kind of population."
Kalinchuk says RVC doesn't just chase smokestacks, it works with small businesses in their many hamlets to ensure their continued success.
"The shop owners we have in Bragg Creek, and Langdon and the small business owners we have in Balzac and Bearspaw are a critical part of our success as well," he says.
"Business retention, expansion, and making sure everyone is prospering in the county is a fundamental function of what we do in economic development."
They also work with economic development departments and chambers of commerce in adjacent urban centres, like Cochrane.
While RVC's success, Kalinchuk expects there to be continued challenges in 2021 for Albertans and governments. He believes the more that can be done to keep taxes reasonable, encourage growth, and create jobs, the better.
"I often tell people and tell our council that Rocky View County should be the island of stability in an ocean of chaos. So if we've got so much uncertainty still swirling around from the economic fallout of 2020 and COVID, we should be the province where people come to where they know they've got opportunity, jobs, stability, certainty, and promise for the future."