City of Wetaskiwin

Central Alberta's revitalization

Situated just 70 kilometres south of its provincial capital Edmonton, the Alberta city of Wetaskiwin is a growing metropolis, steeped with an industry focus on agriculturally based development.

Home to a growing population of more than 12,000 residents, Wetaskiwin is one of the oldest cities in Alberta, continuously building for its bright future.
Historically, Wetaskiwin’s business focus was based on agriculture. More recently, Wetaskiwin has become known for its Home Hardware distribution centre, the company basing its Western Canadian anchor in the Wetaskiwin community. The facility, more than 700,000 square feet and the employer of more than 600 people, serves as one of the city’s growing economic cogs.

The economics of Wetaskiwin

In February 2009, the City of Wetaskiwin started the process of creating its Municipal Sustainability Plan, known as Wetaskiwin Tomorrow, which has been taken by the horns as a locally led initiative to create a plan for a better city, gathering feedback on Wetaskiwin’s business and lifestyle development (rural and urban, social services, cultural activities, environmental protection, etc.) for the next 20-plus years.

As such, the last eight months have been spent going through intensive public consultation, utilizing social media, events, speaking at service clubs and chambers to get its citizens to generate feedback on how they visualize the city’s future, with that information then presented to city council this past March. That development includes a revitalization of the city’s downtown, something that needs to be “vibrant” as the city’s heart and soul, according to Ron Holland, the Economic Development Manager for the City of Wetaskiwin.

“Council has now approved the primary goals and objectives looking long-term. We’re in the process of developing the work plan that points us in the right direction, culminating it in a three-day planning work shop with the city council, which will re-adjust over time as culture, ideas and demographics of the community change,” added Ted Gillespie, Wetaskiwin’s City Manager.

Wetaskiwin’s Economic Development Strategy, entitled Roadmap to Prosperity, is quite unique in that it is a community outreach program with a key element being getting the business community, and the community in general, involved in economic development, with a key element being the involvement of business and community leaders in a seven-step community economic development training initiative, leading to their participation in specific community development projects.

Local attractions

The development has seen an increase of attractions in Wetaskiwin, this year playing host to a world class air show that attracted guests from Edmonton, Red Deer and the area. The year 2010 has seen an increase in tourism events in Wetaskiwin. Returning after a one-year hiatus was the Wetaskiwin Air Show, a world class event that attracted guests from across Western Canada. A new event, the Arts & Agricultural Festival, celebrated the ongoing achievements of the local agricultural industry combined with a showcasing of Wetaskiwin’s visual arts and performing arts clusters.

Another attraction is Wetaskiwin’s City Hall. Originally built in 1907, the Wetaskiwin Court House, a designated Provincial and Federal historic site, was restored in 2005 to become the Wetaskiwin community’s “crown jewel”. The original structure was renovated and its functionality was augmented by adding glass-wall additions onto either side of the building. The facility incorporates modern technology by using geothermal heating and cooling, a unique engineering challenge in an historic/modern building.

In terms of tourism, Wetaskiwin is home to several world class facilities, including the Reynolds-Alberta Museum, arguably the finest automotive museum in Canada. This museum celebrates “The Spirit of the Machine” in recognition of Alberta’s history in aviation, agricultural, mechanized equipment and its industrial past. The museum opened in 1992 and is named after Stan Reynolds, a Wetaskiwin businessman and world-renowned collector who generously donated a collection of 1,500 artifacts to the museum. Located adjacent to the Reynolds-Alberta Museum is Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame which pays tribute to more than 200 men and women who pioneered and advanced aviation in Canada.

Growth and prosperity

“We are embarking on a number of exciting projects, like the main street revitalization, which includes a lot of the heritage buildings—the infrastructure is about 100 years old,” added Gillespie. “It’s a three-year project to totally rejuvenate it, hoping to begin stage one [of construction] in the spring.”

Wetaskiwin has traditionally seen very stable growth. According to Gillespie, people look at just population increase for growth, but that is only one measure.
“Could we have had more growth? Possibly, but we are certainly not declining either,” added Gillespie. “We have seen house prices drop the same as everybody else. We are continuing to get building permits, with $30 million worth of permit value for 2010.”

In short, it’s a balanced growth situation with opportunities in a number of areas, from agriculture to attracting manufacturers to Wetaskiwin’s growing development in food processing, and more.

“The big success of organizations like Wal-Mart is that they have targeted large, rural centres. We are starting to see retailers who want to look at the significant market in Wetaskiwin and get a large percentage of that market rather than a decimal percentage, fighting for that market share [in more urban locations],” added Holland.

Compared to 2000, Wetaskiwin is growing faster now and, compared to two years ago, in the midst of a heated economy, there were no indications of reverse growth; Wetaskiwin only continues to move forward.

On the cusp of improving the vibrancy of its community, one of Wetaskiwin’s slogans, “Steeped in history, poised for success”, really does ring true.