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Visibility is one factor needed for economic growth

GROWTH Alberta executive director outlines organization’s efforts to draw attention to the region via its website
cropped-Troy Grainger, Growth Alberta, Sept. 15, 2020
Troy Grainger, executive director of GROWTH Alberta, outlines some of the efforts the organization is doing to promote the region through its website to County of Barrhead councillors. Barry Kerton/BL

BARRHEAD - GROWTH Alberta is trying to draw some much-needed attention to the area.

And one of the best tools they have at their disposal is its website. That is what executive director Troy Grainger told County of Barrhead councillors Sept. 15. Grainger is just starting a regional tour speaking to all of its members.

GROWTH Alberta is one of the province’s nine Regional Economic Development Alliances (REDA). In the mid-1990s, the Alberta government decided there needed to be more coordination between several ad hoc community alliances. Its purpose is to create economic growth through marketing. It currently has 10 members, the County of Barrhead, Lac Ste. Anne County, Woodlands County, Swan Hills, Mayerthorpe, both Westlock municipalities, Clyde, Alberta Beach and the Village of Wabamun.

In the last 18-months, GROWTH has created member community profiles and hosted several tourism-related events, mostly educational, to promote economic development through tourism.

"We have been focusing on economic readiness. Eighty-five per cent of all investigations into communities for investment potential is done online," Grainger said. "There are trillions of dollars out there and there is a lot of competition ... Being able to provide all the information they are looking for in a one-stop web presence is essential."

As part of the community profiles, members can add industry investment focused information such as available land, utility estimates, along with social, economic and regional demographics.

"We really try to focus on our strategic location," he said. "Our proximity to urban areas, while offering a rural lifestyle with cheaper land especially compared to the communities around Edmonton."

Grainger said although there are sections of the website devoted to individual members, much of the information is regional such as information on the area's main industries: forestry, manufacturing, transportation and energy.

"What is good for the County of Barrhead is also good for the Town of Swan Hills, Woodlands County, et cetera," he said.

The other major push GROWTH is actively promoting as a way to generate economic activity in the region, through its WildAlberta brand, is tourism. This again is done, mostly through the WildAlberta website.

Grainger noted the WildAlberta website promotes tourism by activity rather than location.

"Because when people wake up in the morning and decide what they are going to do and not by location," he said.

Grainger said one of the ways the website helps promote tourism is by using images and videos of real people engaged in recreation activities in the area. GROWTH also makes these available for member municipalities use. Currently, GROWTH has more than 20,000 videos and images.

"Most of the time all we have to do is send a quick message to get permission to use the image or video," Grainger said.

Coun. Walter Preugschas said he was especially appreciative of GROWTH'S work to promote tourism, saying it was a vastly untapped resource.

"Tourism is a big economic driver," Grainger agreed. "Everybody has it, but nobody recognizes it, but you can leverage it so that it can make a real impact on your community."

Coun. Darrell Troock interjected it was one of the areas municipalities could work together on, noting often in many areas of economic development it is something municipalities, by necessity have to do on their own.

"Tourism is the one thing we can cross borders with our partners," he said. "When you start talking about land, industrial lots, it is too much of a cutthroat business. In reality, every community is out there to market their community to get those extra tax dollars. If I can take it from Westlock, we are going to take it and vice-versa. And it is something that can be developed and then let other people take off and run with it."

Barry Kerton,