County of Wetaskiwin dubs attracting investments ‘very challenging’

The County of Wetaskiwin is still figuring out how best to attract more business and development to the region.

According to stats provided by the county’s economic development office, in 2023, there were only two commercial and industrial permits approved in the county at an estimated value of $150,000. The data indicates that $100,000 of that was an industrial permit, and the remaining were commercial permits.

The Director for the planning and Economic Development of the municipality, Neal Sarnecki told the Pipestone Flyer that there aren’t many commercial activities going on in the region.

“It is one of the challenges the County has that we don’t have a whole lot of industrial or commercial tax base,” Sarnecki noted.

There are a few significant reasons why this part of Alberta consistently fails to attract new businesses.

According to Sarnecki, geography plays a big role, as it’s far away from major transportation hubs.

The other issue that drives the slow growth of the region is a lack of enough population.

Sarnecki says that in the entire County, there are only around 11,000 people.

“It isn’t easy to attract a plant, or a refinery, manufacturing plant. It’s very challenging when you are this distant from some of the major transportation hubs, such as the Edmonton airport, or any multi-model areas,” Sarnecki detailed.

According to data from the economic development of the county, in January of 2024, there were only 2 commercial permits at an estimated value of $75,000.

However, the county issued six residential permits in January of this year for an estimated value of $337,500.

In 2023, however, there were a total of eight residential permits issued with a total value of almost a million dollars.

The overall number of applications in the County of Wetaskiwin has seen a dramatic downfall since 2021.

For example, 607 applications and permits were approved in 2021. That number decreased to 465 in 2022, and in 2023 there were only 372 applications.

Sarnecki explains why such a decrease accrued in the last two years.

“In 2022, it was the start of interest rates going up. People didn’t know what they might be doing with their money. Inflation started. In 2023… interest rates were way up. People didn’t know where the economy was going. They weren’t building. They weren’t applying for permits.”

Sarnecki says the county has plans to grow the economy of the region in the following months and years.

“We approved a new municipal economic development plan last year that’s supporting more economic development.”

According to Sarnecki, the county is currently” in the process of reviewing (its) land use bylaw -which deals with zoning and permits. A theme of the review is ‘How do we bring more economic development to our region.’”

Sarnecki said there’s a potential for the slow economic growth to impact the population of the region, but for right now, people love living in the county.

“A lot of people that are here, want to be here. They are in it for the agricultural lifestyle. It does have its attraction as well.”

Qiam Noori, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Ponoka News