While the GDP (gross domestic product) growth is at a standstill in many parts of Alberta, Lethbridge is showing continued growth as a mid-sized city, according to a new report from the Conference Board of Canada.
The report shows GDP growth in the Lethbridge region at 5.8 per cent in 2017 and jumping by a further 5.1 per cent in 2018, while Alberta’s GDP declined at nearly the same rate.
“It’s our strength in agriculture, quite frankly, that’s the foundation in our economy and offsets the weakness in the rest of the province of our oil and gas,” Economic Development Lethbridge CEO Trevor Lewington said.
“And the fact we have a pretty diversified economy, which of course includes agriculture, but also things that they call ‘non-commercial services’ which are things like university, the college and Alberta Health.”
The report looked at several other mid-sized Canadian cities, including Sault Ste. Marie, Brandon, Chilliwack, Moose Jaw, Red Deer and Prince George.
Lethbridge also scored beyond expectation in per capita averages for building permits in 2017 — almost doubling the averages in Red Deer and Medicine Hat.
Lewington credits that to major public sector investments like the Science Commons at the University of Lethbridge, the hospital expansion and the new ATB centre.
The Lethbridge region may also be benefiting from its strong community values, according to Lethbridge Chamber of Commerce executive officer Cyndi Vos.
“We’re an economy that’s like other economies. I just believe the relationships we have are strong,” Vos said.
“We have an approachable government in our region and approachable industry. Those relationships make it easier to push forward through the red tape. Our area has a real ‘get it done’ attitude.”
Owner of Cox Financial Group and chair-elect for the Lethbridge Chamber of Commerce, Jared Cox, said many of the things that make Lethbridge a successful region for industry are more difficult to measure in a report.
“Some of what is left out is that it’s a great place to raise a family,” Cox said.
“It’s a great central hub of a location. You’re close to a lot of the transportation routes or to the U.S. That’s what is keeping the talent here. You also see a lot of talent coming out of our two post-secondary institutions. They’re often undervalued and they provide a lot to the economy and industry here.”
The report projected continued GDP growth in the region of at least 2 per cent in 2019 and 2020.