County of Grande Prairie Alberta
quite simply the middle of Everywhere
Strategically located and with dynamic growth, the County of Grande Prairie sets the county bar high
The County of Grande Prairie is a place of opportunity. Home to the rich natural resources that support agriculture, forestry, and energy industries, the county is also anticipating continued growth in manufacturing, tourism, healthcare, and retail sectors. This, combined with diverse urban and rural lifestyle options, affordable housing options and a high median income, make Grande Prairie a place to discover and a place to call home.
With a population of more than 25,000 the County surrounds the city of Grande Prairie, encompassing the towns of Beaverlodge, Sexsmith, and Wembley, along with several hamlets and localities. With much to offer, Grande Prairie is working to attract a new economic opportunity and a skilled workforce, while also marketing the region as a tourist destination. “The County of Grande Prairie and surrounding area has basically all the amenities of a large city. We have all the big brand name stores, and we are the shopping hub for the region,” relays County Reeve, Bob Marshall.
The county is served by four school districts, the Catholic School Board, the Grande Prairie School Board,the French L’ecole Nouvelle Frontiere and the Peace Wapiti School Board, which represents the rural areas. A new Catholic high school was recently opened, necessary as the population in the region continues to climb.
Reporting that the County of Grande Prairie has one of the youngest demographics in the country, with a median age of 36.7, Marshall says the Peace Wapiti Board is in the planning stages of a new school, in order to accommodate the needs of the community. “The schools are over capacity,” Marshall acknowledges. “Since 2016, our growth is about 5.6%. Our high growth rate has outpaced both the province and the country.”
Following a growth and economic development strategy that promotes the County of Grande Prairie as “The Middle of Everywhere,” there is a concerted effort underway to showcase the many opportunities in the community and attract new investment.
One sector the county is looking to engage in is service businesses, specifically companies that support the existing industries. “If you look at drilling and the production and the exploration, there are all kinds of service companies that have to support that,” Marshall elaborates. “That also carries over to our forestry industry, there are two sawmills in our immediate area, as well as a pulp mill. Even our agricultural industry, with the number of farmers in the region and even in northern Alberta, there are those supply chains, and also those service companies.”
The County of Grande Prairie is supporting an initiative known as the GIG (Greenview Industrial Gateway), a large-scale industrial development that is focused on natural gas and oil exploration and processing. “Because we’ve got the resources right here, you don’t have the transportation costs. We do have a couple of industry players that are, we’re hoping that they’ll have the final financial decision by the end of this year and be moving ahead with those. These are multi-billion dollar projects,” he maintains.
After the recent completion of a high-level biomass study, the county will be taking part in a more intensive study which Marshall says will take a deeper look at the data. “Instead of a 40,000-foot view, we want to get right into the weeds and look at how much biomass we have with the sawmills, and the pulp mills that we have within the region,” he describes.
“You look at all the biomass that’s available, and we’re only using about 50% of it.” Mentioning that the initial study predicted the region will receive an A rating or better at the end of the formal assessment. “It’s speculation until we have the actual numbers,” he admits, “but we’d be the very first ‘A’ rated woody biomass BDO Zone designation in Alberta.” This information will also help with marketing the county, which Marshall suggests would be an ideal location for a Cogen facility, or a pelletization plant.
A new regional hospital in the city of Grande Prairie will service northern and northwest Alberta, and into the Yukon Territories. Attracting medical personnel is of top priority, and Marshall notes that there are unlimited opportunities within the hospital. He remarks, “It’s a beautiful facility, but we’re not able to utilize the full capacity of that hospital just because we don’t have the staff. A lot of the things I’ve heard from health practitioners that have come here are that it’s just amazing, it’s state of the art, it’s world-class.”
The workforce is an ongoing challenge in the county, where employment opportunities are plentiful. Partnering with the city of Greenview and the Grande Prairie & District Chamber of Commerce, the focus is on business attraction and retention, while also enticing employees to the region. “We’re working on a study and getting a task group together to start formulating more ideas to bring in more people,”
Marshall asserts. “With the opportunities here, we can’t bring people in fast enough to fill the positions that we need. So, there are initiatives in place, but we need to look at how we can even go beyond that to get more people.” Along with that, a partnership between Northwestern Polytechnic and the local industry is targeted at providing programming that ensures a skilled workforce.
A project to twin 10 miles of a busy highway will help to address traffic issues in the region and entice further economic development in the county. The roadwork and the addition of a second bridge across the Wapiti River is a $106 million investment, of which the municipal district of Greenview is contributing $60 million.
“The county said we would chip in to help fund the small piece on the north side of the river. So, we chipped in $10 million to the MD of Greenview’s portion to help entice the province to move ahead with that project, so that they would fund the rest of it.” Marshall reports. “Traffic counts indicate that there’s more traffic on Highway 40 than there was up to Fort McMurray, and that highway has been twinned now. So, it definitely justifies that investment by the province and our municipalities.”
The County of Grande Prairie has put itself on the map as a destination for paleontology enthusiasts and experts, with popular attractions such as the Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum. Marshall recounts, “The dinosaur museum is a beautiful and very unique structure. It’s worth that trip just in itself if you’re into architecture.”
Along with the museum, visitors can participate in a rafting tour down the Wapiti River, viewing several different archeological finds along the way. Along the river beds of Pipestone Creek just south of the museum actual dinosaur footprints can be seen in the rocks within one of the mines, another draw for tourists. “The bone beds up here are some of the largest in the world, as we have heard from Philip J. Currie, who’s one of the eminent paleontologists in the world. That is why that museum is named after him,” he conveys.
The Crosslink County Sportsplex is another much-loved amenity owned by the county, offering a plethora of indoor and outdoor recreation opportunities.The County is also home to Evergreen Park, the largest exhibition facility north of Edmonton. Staying true to its agricultural roots, this venue hosts everything from agricultural shows to horse racing, amid a beautiful rural pine forest setting.
“We have all kinds of activities out there throughout the year. It’s definitely one of our jewels within the county and our region,” says Marshall. He adds, “If you look at the provincial economy, typically in Alberta the Mountain National Parks are the primary focus for tourism, but they’re basically at capacity during peak season. So, the government is looking at other options, and this is one of the areas they’re focusing on.” The Grande Prairie Regional Tourism Association is another valuable resource, highlighting all the county has to offer.
Moving forward, Marshall says the focus will continue to be promoting the County of Grande Prairie and attracting new residents.
He offers, “I believe we need to come up with a marketing plan to promote the region and get people to move here, to actually put roots down whether it’s immigration from outside of the country, within the country, or even from within the province. We need to really market our area and get those people here. There’s more here than anywhere else in the province if you look at the job opportunities. With the quality of life and the low housing prices and high wages, there are just so many positives for this region.”
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AT A GLANCE
County of Grande Prairie
What: A growing municipality working to attract industry and people
Where: Northwest Alberta’s Peace Region