WESTLOCK — Westlock County CAO Tony Kulbisky wants the region to be a destination for visitors and that’s a goal the county and neighbouring municipalities are working towards as they continue building “a powerhouse for the whole region.”
That was part of the message Kulbisky shared Sept. 19 as the guest speaker for the monthly Westlock and District Chamber of Commerce meeting at the Royal Canadian Legion.
Having just returned from participating in the Golden Ultra marathon in B.C., Kulbisky said the county is also looking at possibly hosting similar big-ticket events in the future.
“I think there’s opportunity to really bring more sport tourism type events to this region,” he said. “I’m an ambassador of the Five Peaks program and one of the things that we’ve been working on is trying to bring the Five Peak Series to the Tawatinaw ski area because there’s hills there that I think would work perfectly for that running series.”
Although Westlock County is just an hour north of over a million and a half people, many in the Edmonton area do not know about the region, including the Tawatinaw Valley ski area, and that is something the county wants to change, said Kulbisky.
“If you need numbers to sustain your business community or numbers to sustain some tourism events that you’re trying to host, there’s a huge opportunity and that’s something that we’re going to be working on,” he said.
Kulbisky also pointed out the strong collaboration between regional municipalities that exists today and referred to the “importance of hunting as a pack.”
“In the year that I’ve been here we’ve seen a lot of co-work, working as a region, working with the Village of Clyde, working with the Town of Westlock and working on a regional economic development playbook. No more can municipalities be the lone wolf trying to advocate for government support or trying to bring things to one municipality; we have to hunt as a region,” he explained, noting the example of the Edmonton metro region, that has been working together for years successfully.
The county and area municipalities have been working through the Regional Economic Development Advisory Committee (REDAC) on a regional plan, which is expected be released to the public in different stages in the coming months, following consultations and feedback.
“(There are) really exciting pieces that we’re trying to do with working as a region to bring things here to our area.”
In terms of Westlock County, he noted the work that’s been done to bring their “house in order” including rewriting several bylaws and a review of internal policy that spans about 142 policies, which they have either rescinded, amended, changed, or formatted differently to bring everyone onto the same page.
He said it was exciting to see the region aligned on bylaws and policies to see and help facilitate growth in the region.
“So, if we’re talking about different administrative procedures or things that we do for our ratepayers in our county, that we’re all talking and singing from the same hymn book,” said Kulbisky, pointing out an example in the non-residential tax incentive bylaw and also the push for value-added agriculture.
“We’ve basically mimicked what the Town of Westlock has done. Again, hunting as a pack — if we’re trying to bring assessment growth to our region, we have to be on the same page in terms of non-residential tax rates … if we can combine it and actually look at the entire, larger region, it makes it more attractive for big business that’s coming here.”