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March 2017 Mayor Column

March 2017 Mayor Column

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

The health of the Alberta economy has remained a topic of concern and discussion throughout the economic downturn the past couple of years.

Lethbridge's increasing economic diversity has helped us weather this downturn far better than many other Alberta cities. In terms of economic development, 2016 was an impressive year for Lethbridge. We saw $1 billion in new investments announced with more than half of this total coming from the private sector.

The path to prosperity is through economic development and growth. We want Lethbridge to remain a preferred city for investment, and we want to continue to build our reputation as a business-friendly community.

The political situation south of the border is creating some uncertainty regarding Canada-U.S. trade going forward, and so we need to work harder than ever to ensure that Lethbridge continues to be seen as a great place for our existing industries and businesses as well as for new business investment.

One of our immediate priorities is to continue working to align our local and regional efforts with those of the federal and provincial governments to make sure Lethbridge and our surrounding region remain attractive to domestic and international investment, which in turn creates new jobs.

Lethbridge offers several advantages for existing businesses or industries looking to expand as well as for potential new businesses looking to locate here. We have comparatively low costs for commercial and industrial land. We have a skilled workforce with a ready supply of local graduates from the University of Lethbridge – one of the top-ranked universities in Canada – as well as graduates who receive excellent training and education at Lethbridge College. We also have a well-established agri-food sector, which is an important asset in a world where fewer and fewer people globally are involved in growing and producing food products.

The recent trip to China and Japan by our Lethbridge-and-area delegation underlined how important food production is now and how its importance will increase in the future.

Within our community, it's important to recognize that now is an excellent time to invest further in our own city. The redevelopment of our downtown continues to be a priority for the City of Lethbridge. At our regular meeting on March 13, City Council was briefed on the updated master plan for Galt Gardens, which contains recommendations for future improvements that would enhance the attractiveness of our downtown for residents, visitors, and business investors.

We also continue to see private investors and developers taking advantage of incentives created by City Council to encourage the development of downtown residential spaces in addition to redevelopment of downtown commercial properties. These are encouraging steps toward our long-term vision of fostering a vibrant downtown area for people to live, work and spend leisure time.

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City Council's recent decision to create a separate tourism entity should also stimulate ideas for how communities and businesses can support tourism in the Lethbridge region in the future. Our city is seen to be underserved when it comes to tourism, and we believe that untapped opportunities exist for entrepreneurs to foster tourism locally. We hope to promote additional opportunities as we continue building our Destination Management Plan for the development, management and marketing of Lethbridge's tourism industry over the coming decade. This plan serves as a framework for our tourism industry partners to collaborate in achieving this vision.

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As you're likely aware, 2017 marks Canada's 150th anniversary of confederation. Numerous opportunities exist in the coming months to participate in local Canada 150 activities and events, and I hope you will take the time to enjoy as many of them as possible. You can find out what's coming up by visiting: www.lethbridge.ca/Canada150.

I'm very proud of the increasingly diverse arts and culture activities and events happening in our community. Coming up next week are the Lethbridge International Film Festival and the Lethbridge Symphony, to name just a couple. The array of these types of events adds colour and flavour to life in our city. I commend all those involved in organizing and hosting such activities, and I encourage you to do yourself a favour by attending and supporting them, whenever you can.

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This week, the YMCA of Lethbridge announced that they kicked off their community campaign with a $3.75-million donation from local businessman and philanthropist Cor Van Raay. This major donation will help the YMCA buy equipment and cover capital expenses as it takes on the role of operator of ATB Centre-Phase 2 when it opens in 2019. We're incredibly pleased with the support we've seen to date for this this fantastic new municipal leisure facility.

This donation also puts the YMCA more than halfway toward its goal of $6 million. Private donors from Lethbridge and our surrounding region also provide outstanding financial support to Lethbridge College and the University of Lethbridge. I want to thank all donors for giving back to our community.

We get to show off ATB Centre-Phase 1 next month to curlers from around the world. ATB Centre will be the site of the 2017 World Mixed Doubles and World Senior (50 and over) Curling Championships from April 22-29. This event will be the final chance for countries to clinch a berth in the inaugural Olympic mixed doubles curling competition, which will debut as an Olympic sport at the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.

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The Lethbridge Hurricanes wrap up a very successful regular season this weekend. The entire organization – players, coaches, team management and the team's leadership on the board of directors – deserves our congratulations and support for making the 'Canes once again a team that's respected and feared in the Western Hockey League.

The playoffs are just around the corner, and we'll be lighting up City Hall in the Hurricanes' colours on March 24. I urge you to come out and support the team when they open the playoffs at home at the ENMAX Centre on March 25 and 26. Let's cheer them on in their quest for a championship!

Mayor Chris Spearman
March 17, 2017