In the March issue of Business in Edmonton Magazine, Parkland County discussed the exciting infrastructure changes in the region and the growth in Acheson Industrial Area. Today, Parkland County reveals that despite the ongoing changes in the coal industry, the County is committed to meeting challenges head on with a series of short and long-term goals strategically designed to protect the people, places and jobs where 32,000+ residents call home.
Up in the Air
The Government of Canada’s Coal Phase Out: The Powering Past Coal Alliance was designed to tackle a very serious global problem. Coal firing plants account for nearly 40 per cent of the world’s electricity, making coal a top contributor to climate change. In 2016 the Government of Alberta accelerated the coal phase out under its Climate Leadership Plan, throwing the pace of job loss and uncertainty into overdrive. Things are sure to change again with the 2019 provincial election when the United Conservative Party came into power, touting on its platform a plan to go softer on carbon issues with what it calls “a sensible approach.”
In Parkland County there are very real and very hardworking people affected by these rapid and ongoing federal and provincial changes. Retirements, jobs, well being, and social structures are at risk. While the County acknowledges that climate change must be addressed, it also commits to protecting its communities.
The future of coal may be up in the air, but Parkland County remains firmly grounded. While the politicians battle it out in Ottawa, Parkland County has been hard at work diversifying, attracting new business and residents, growing the tax base, and getting ready to engage in a future that is less reliant on coal. Mining towns often turn into ghost towns, but the communities of Parkland County aren’t having any of that, thanks to an active, agile, engaged council.
Big Changes, Big Results
Rather than just focus on coal, Parkland County has decided to look at how each resident, from those working in coal-supporting jobs to babes-in-arms, are affected by the phase out. With this assessment, the County has focused on several factors including building social communities, increasing engagement in agriculture, and becoming an attractive hub for digital technology.
Over the last year, much work was completed on initiatives including but not limited to:
- Keep Parkland Growing: a social media campaign that sought to engage the residents of Parkland County in the conversation surrounding the impacts of the phase out of coal and what the County needs to continue to thrive well into a future without coal-fired power generation fuelling the local economy.
- The Entwistle Outdoor Pool & Community Hub and the Hamlet Reinvestment Strategy: seek to improve rural communities’ social spaces such as recreational facilities and libraries, creating safe and welcoming gathering spaces where people can meet and be active together.
- Smart Parkland: an initiative to improve lives, communities, businesses, and careers by making the internet accessible in rural areas. This includes plans for a fibre network infrastructure to bring high speed internet to Entwistle.
- The trickle-down effect of the coal phase out has affected many careers, including fire fighters who had duties at the TransAlta plant. To maintain emergency response times, the County has hired three fulltime firefighters in Wabamun.
- An agricultural program and services review completed last year put forward recommendations that will increase prime farm land, improve agricultural waste management, enhance communication with agriculture producers and undertake an irrigation feasibility assessment.
- Parkland County has approved several infrastructure investments and reduced red tape to attract and support developers and businesses. This strategy is working. More than 950 building and development permits were issued last year.
- Recognizing the potential in the cannabis market, Parkland County was pleased to have attracted Freedom Cannabis to Acheson. The County understands this emerging industry and is working towards attracting more growth in this area including zoning for micro and major cultivation, processing and retail.
- Growth and development in Acheson continues with diversification into data and technology alongside transportation and manufacturing. The industrial area seeks to be an attractive option for tech-forward companies such as data centres.
- The Tri-Municipal Regional Transit Plan will further unite Spruce Grove, Stony Plain, and Parkland County, helping residents get around the tri-municipal area with reliable public transportation. The Transit Plan gives residents access to a wider area for work and social engagement.
Proactive, Not Reactive
Seeing the winds of change on the horizon, Parkland County has chosen to be proactive, not reactive. Change is coming, but instead of waiting to see where that change takes us, the County is choosing to be positive and prepare for a variety of outcomes while constantly working towards a strong, safe, welcoming, business-friendly region.
From community hubs to technology infrastructure, job creation to agriculture support, families in Parkland County can rest assured that their interests and needs remain top-of-mind.