The beautiful town of Hinton, Alta., located on the Athabasca River and minutes from national and provincial parks is, as its motto states, the Gateway to the Rockies.
Traditionally a transportation hub, the town’s strategic location near rail and road have precipitated Hinton’s recent emergence as a transportation, business and academic hub for the West Yellowhead region between Jasper (80 kilometres to the northeast) and Edmonton (280 kilometres to the west). The economic and lifestyle opportunities are extraordinary for a town of 10,000. Hinton’s residents balance the town’s strong economic activity with world-class leisure and recreational opportunities such as skiing, mountain biking, canoeing, and fishing support the growth and development of emerging tourism, residential attraction, and resource supply and servicing industries.
Those who visit Hinton are quick to fall in love with the warm mountain town atmosphere and the beautiful landscape. In fact, when speaking with locals, many say they came for the outdoor recreation opportunities, but stayed for the quality of life. Economically, Hinton is enviably diverse. A multi-industry town, coal mining, pulp and paper, forestry, health services and education all employ large sectors of the population. West Fraser—one of the largest timber companies in North America—has been in operation in Hinton since 1955, today employing over 520 people. Teck Coal, one of the country’s largest mining companies, has an operation just outside of town, and also serves as a major employer for Hinton. Industry in Hinton includes oil and gas service companies as well, with local companies such as Alstar Oilfield Contractors and Trican Well Services setting up shop in town.
Currently, Coalspur Mines is in the final approval stages and plans to begin construction after Alberta regulatory approval has been granted. Coalspur has the potential to be one of the largest export thermal coals mines in North America as measured by annual production.
“Hinton is a relatively industrial town,” says Brian LaBerge, President, Hinton and District Chamber of Commerce. “But we have a cross section of large and small businesses.”
The Hinton and District Chamber of Commerce boasts 190 members of the business community, which plays a large role in the overall community.
“From a business perspective, obviously entrepreneurs must consider their bottom line,” says LaBerge. “The income in this area is significant, which creates furtive business opportunities in the area.”
Kimberley Worthington is the Economic Development and Housing Manager at the Town of Hinton. “The town’s economy is very stable relative to a single-industry town,” Worthington says. “Those ebbs and flows that natural resources feel are balanced because we have such diversity. We are also growing tourism, which is in Alberta the 3rd largest gross domestic product. We have a distinct advantage in that we also have great natural capital for outdoor recreational activities. What is a draw for tourists is also a draw for future business and residents.”
In 2013, Hinton elected a new mayor. With over a decade of management experience in technology and forestry, as well as an avid mountain biker, skier and fisher, Mayor Rob Mackin epitomizes the well-rounded lifestyle available to those who live in Hinton. “My focus is to promote and grow Hinton. Even with all our success, we’ve got so much potential here that has been untapped,” he says. “Hinton has the ability to become a central retail and business hub for the region.”
Mackin cites the town’s ideal location as a major advantage for industry in the area, as Hinton is central to forestry, mining and oilfield operations in the region. “The Athabasca River runs right through town,” says Mackin. “It’s one of the original trade routes back in the fur trading days, and it still gives us the ability to support industry. We are also located on the main railway line and the highway corridor going to the coast, which is great for exports.” For instance, coal can be taken by rail to Prince Rupert, B.C., and from there it’s actually a shorter trip to ship products to Asia than it is from Australia to Asia. “Our location is such a key advantage for the resource industries,” says Mackin.
Managing industry and Hinton’s beautiful natural surroundings is a constant priority for Mackin, who feels it is paramount for the community and companies to work together as environmental stewards. “If we don’t have that balance between industry and the environment, our community would not be successful. And that’s not just for us: it’s for the region. I value the role that industry plays here. They take care and consideration with their operations, and I am thoroughly impressed with the preparations in place to handle any incident.”
In many areas, Hinton is a town that is fighting above its weight. With a comprehensive tourism program, visitors immediately feel welcome in Hinton, and quickly fall in love with the wonders of its settings and the availability of its recreational opportunities. Mackin relocated to Hinton because of the business opportunity, something he feels is a major draw for the community. He quickly found that coupled with the friendly, mountain town atmosphere, abundance of outdoor pursuits, and proximity to Jasper National Park, Hinton is a desirable place to call home.
“Hinton is a hidden jewel on the edge of the Rockies,” says Mackin, “We’ve got the opportunity for strong sustainable growth in front of us. What Hinton provides is just that—it’s a safe, secure investment for the long term.”