Fort McMurray plans to rebrand to attract investors, retail outlets

Fort McMurray says it plans to rebrand itself with the aim of attracting new residents and investors to the region.

Kevin Weidlich, CEO and president of the Wood Buffalo Economic Development Corporation, announced the campaign Tuesday, saying the region will try to "aggressively attract international brand retailers" to Alberta's oilsands city.

Bringing in new retail store would help convince residents to spend their money locally rather than driving to Edmonton to shop or ordering online. 

Part of the strategy will involved changing the way people see Fort McMurray, Weidlich said. 

"People have suggested that it's tough to make a living in Fort McMurray," he said. "But you have people who have been successful and been resilient and very creative. So part of that story needs to be told."

The corporation will also push the narrative that the region is a leader for successful Indigenous businesses.

David Thurton/CBC

"This is something that the average person across the country needs to better understand." 

In his speech at the corporation's luncheon, Weidlich said the plan will be to push the new brand using national campaigns. 

The announcement came on the same day as the official groundbreaking for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which Weidlich called good news that highlights the potential for economic growth.

The expansion fits well with the rebranding initiative because the pipeline project should bring more confidence to investors that Canada plans to keep growing the oilsands. 

"Our plan is to share the story of Fort McMurray and the benefit that the oilsands provide to the country," Weidlich said. "That's part of awakening Canada to the importance of Fort McMurray.

"Getting pipes in the ground benefits the country, and every Canadian citizen needs to understand that."

Jamie Malbeuf/CBC

Coun. Verna Murphy agreed that it will help boost confidence for investors. 

She said many companies have said they're feeling the impacts of the oil curtailment. The province announced recently it will increase the curtailment limit from 10,000 to 20,000 barrels per producer per day, and will extend the program until December 2020.

"They're feeling the pressure to get another pipeline built," Murphy said.

'We aren't Darth Vader'

Bryce Kumka, president of the Fort McMurray Chamber of Commerce, said the region has historically been bad at telling its story. 

But he hopes the corporation can help create a brand for Fort McMurray that convinces people "we aren't Darth Vader and his henchmen. We actually are doing some really neat things here and trying to make things better, and responsibly extract the resources that we've been given."

Jamie Malbeuf/CBC