Downtown Grande Prairie, Erica Fisher
By many indicators, Grande Prairie’s economy improved last year. However, it’s unclear to the City’s Deputy Director of Economic Development whether the trend will continue in 2019.
By the end of November 2018, home sales were up 19 per cent over the same time period in 2017, drilling licences were up eight per cent, and the value of construction permits over the whole year increased by 13 per cent. Hotel occupancy and passengers at the Grande Prairie Airport were also up as of September.
“On the hotel occupancy side,” says Brian Glavin, “right now Grande Prairie’s behind only the Rocky Mountain destinations. Only Banff, Jasper and Canmore are ahead of us in the entire province, which is a good indicator of demand for accommodations for people working in the energy industry.”
Glavin also points to the rental vacancy rate in the city dropping, along with the unemployment rate for all of western Alberta as signs that the local economy improved last year.
As for 2019, the director expects to see a similar year. So far, he says he hasn’t seen any significant reductions in the capital budgets for oil and gas producers, and he’s looking forward to progress on two major developments in the region. That includes Nauticol Energy’s proposed methanol facility.
“That is looking at making a final investment decision in 2019,” Glavin explains. “That’s over a $2 billion project to produce menthanol in our area, which would be the first of its kind in this region and would contribute significantly to hotel demand and housing demands.”
The other is the tri-municipal industrial partnership, proposed for Crown land south of Grande Prairie in the Municipal District of Greenview. Glavin notes that the recently announced twinning of a 19 kilometre stretch of Highway 40 will help attract more facilities like that, as well as some work already underway.
“There are some passing lanes that are being put into Highway 40 in addition to the twinning that will help alleviate things in the shorter term.”
The uncertainty for this year, according to Glavin, is fluctuating oil prices. He argues change can lead to a lack of confidence, but he has seen producers be able to adapt so far.
“We’ve seen oil by rail go up dramatically this year over what’s historically been on the rail system, which obviously creates its own unique challenges with getting other commodities to market… They’ll scale up and down and find new ways to get their product to market.”
Oil prices in Alberta have stabilized somewhat since the provincial government curtailed production at the beginning of the year, but Glavin says the full effect remains to be seen.