The Clearwater County economic development open house was held Tuesday evening in Leslieville.
Local businesses were invited to provide input following a 2016 economic census showing a decreasing and aging population in the county.
Economic Development Officer Jerry Pratt says from 2011 to 2016 Clearwater County’s population dropped 2.7%, despite an 11.6% increase in Alberta’s population.
The fastest growing age groups in the county are 60 to 74 and 75+, which could present issues in the county due to less spending in real estate, and less investment.
Pratt led the discussion Tuesday, initially asking attendees about the strengths and barriers of the local economy.
Some common strengths discussed were the quality of life, geography and the ability to have a connection with the local government.
“Our biggest appeal is probably the lifestyle,” says Pratt. “There are many people, where once they move here, they love it. We have, at the last count, 17 retired RCMP officers that live here because they served here at one time, went away and they wanted to come back.”
Some mutually-voiced barriers were red tape from the county, lack of high-speed internet and a lack of innovation.
“It’s kind of a double edged sword because there’s a bit of an anti-development mentality,” says Andrea Spongberg, co-owner of Metal Dog Machines. “However, at the same time there’s a really good core of people who are pro-development and really willing to help out when needed.”
Business owners also discussed possible solutions to the ailing economy. Some responses include the County working more closely with the Town of Rocky Mountain House, revising industrial zoning, and taking extra steps to increase publicity.
“I mean I think we need to go big, go big or go home, things like reducing taxes to zero,” says Spongberg. “Let’s make a big splash about doing something like that, just really knock people’s socks off, and say we’re Clearwater County and we’re amazing.”
The county plans to release a new economic strategy in the fall.
If the public would like to provide input, an economic development strategy survey is available at www.clearwatercounty.ca.
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