City of Saskatoon

Canada’s Hidden Gem

‘Go West’ – it’s the recent theme of Canadian economic prosperity, and a destination that now includes the province of Saskatchewan and its largest city, Saskatoon, where the economic boom has continued.

Murray Totland, City Manager with the City of Saskatoon, told the Saskatoon story to The Canadian Business Journal.

“I really noticed something going on in Saskatoon in the end of 2006 and into 2007,” Totland said. “I thought, ‘Wow! There is something different going on in our community, in our city, and in our economy.’”

Growth ramped up and construction activity accelerated, through 2007 and into 2008, with Saskatoon insulated from the surrounding global economic concern that troubled this period. “We took a bit of a breather through the end of 2008 and 2009,” Totland summarized. “But now we’re back — growing at a torrid pace.”

Saskatoon’s Economic Boom

Economically, in 2011, the city posted a record-setting year, and is on pace to exceed that mark in 2012. As one example, local building permits exceed year-ago figures by more than 22 per cent, a prime representation of the economic boom occurring in Saskatoon.

Notably, the economic strength behind Saskatoon is its diverse economy – not dependent on a single sector. Formerly, the city relied on its agricultural base, but in recent years the local economy has seen major expansion into the mining, biotech, oil and gas, construction, and retail fields. Home to 240,000 residents, and with annual population growth hovering around three per cent, Saskatoon is certainly a city in growth mode. “Years ago, Saskatoon was more of a sleepy prairie town,” Totland said. “I think we’re transitioning to a dynamic, energetic, mid-sized Canadian city.”

Saskatoon’s community is changing, but the core values that made it an economic success remain the same.

“It’s a pretty exciting time in Saskatoon,” Totland beamed. “We’re seeing things that larger cities are seeing, like more diverse developments and more retail opportunities, things that we never saw before.”

Integrated Growth Plan

The City has implemented attractive measures that drive business and investment to Saskatoon. Recognized as the leading business-friendly big city in Canada by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Saskatoon is also recognized as the Entrepreneurial Capital of Canada.

Saskatoon is an emerging economic success that offers an array of business startups, a concentration of local businesspeople, and high business optimism.

Strong public policy, business regulations, and an affordable tax regime support local small businesses. The City of Saskatoon has created an attractive business climate that is based on success. Coupled with local growth, this environment continues to push Saskatoon to new economic heights.

“A lot of people are now interested in Saskatoon. We’ve hit some radar screens that we’ve never been on before and once that starts it just builds on itself,” Totland said. “Interest spreads and word spreads of the good things that are happening in Saskatoon.”

Away from the business world, Saskatoon offers a vibrant, picturesque community and an active downtown, the envy of many North American cities. Residents enjoy Saskatoon’s quality of life offering. As a result, Saskatoon has experienced increased immigration in recent years, with up to 6,000 newcomers a year from across Canada and abroad. Further, with a plan to increase population densities downtown and in key sectors, the trend is likely to carry on. “That wasn’t the case even as little as five years ago,” Totland pointed out, “People are finding out about the hidden gem that Saskatoon is.”

A new Strategic Plan in hand, defining the community vision for the next 10 years, the report encompasses a new integrated growth strategy on how to plan and build Saskatoon going forward. Totland summarized, “It’s a pretty exciting prospect, and we hope it will create an even better community than we have today.”

Community Investment

Civic Satisfaction Surveys reflect the City’s active engagement in Saskatoon as well as its citizens’ desire to be involved in the community.

What also distinguishes Saskatoon is its investment in the municipal housing market. The City has committed nearly $16 million over the last five years to assist in home ownership and rental opportunities for entry-level housing in Saskatoon. City planning has created a healthier, more balanced local housing market.

Other major construction projects underway in Saskatoon include the Circle Drive South Bridge, the largest ever project to be undertaken by the City. With an anticipated completion date of September 2012, this $300 million project serves as a transportation corridor for the city and for Saskatchewan as a whole, linking several provincial and national highways.

Additionally, several other major transportation projects are in the works, such as twinning Boychuk Drive, and the construction and extension of many arterial roads like 25th Street and McOrmond Drive. In the industrial landscape, projects include the recently completed, $60 million raw water intake for Saskatoon’s water treatment plant.

The Remai Art Gallery of Saskatchewan, valued at $84 million, is in its final design stages. The facility will be a significant cultural highlight. Based at the “residential destination” of River Landing, the art gallery will represent a significant development for the area. The City has invested in the park area and riverfront development at River Landing, while the private sector will finance $250 million of development in office, retail, hotel, and condominium space.

“We’ve realized that we have an opportunity before us, and it is important that we get this right; we’d like to avoid some of the pitfalls that other fast-growing cities in North America have experienced,” Totland commented. “Through our master city planning process, we can incorporate a lot of best practices and desirable aspects that our citizens have told us they want embodied in our community.”

The goal is to continue Saskatoon’s economic prosperity and high quality of life through robust planning. Saskatoon is emerging as an integrated 21st century city for families and business.

“We’re a city in transition, we’re prospering, and we have great opportunity,” Totland concluded, “so we’re putting plans in place to ensure that it continues.”