I'm excited to share the success of the past year and provide insight into where our community is heading in the year to come and beyond.
Reflecting on 2016, it's truly impressive how much our city has accomplished. We've seen major community projects and events that created pride and excitement. From the first days of 2016, Lethbridge came together to show how much it cared with amazing collaboration to welcome more than 300 Syrian refugees as valued new members of our community. And we continue to provide them with the support they need to be successful.
We also celebrated the openings of some major facilities in 2016 including:
- The downtown Multicultural Centre as the new home of the Southern Alberta Ethnic Association.
- The re-opening of the amazing new Henderson Pool. This facility saw a record number of attendees despite opening one month later than usual.
- The ATB Centre in west Lethbridge, which celebrated its Phase 1 grand opening in September.
- The Tour of Alberta, which once again brought excitement to our city and showcased Lethbridge to the world.
- The Winter Lights Festival launched just a few weeks ago at the Nikka Yuko Japanese Gardens. The amazing corporate support from local businesses has made this an outstanding event, and we look forward to seeing it grow in the future.
We are seeing steady, sustainable growth in every part of the city, and west Lethbridge continues to be the fastest growing area of our city. At the University of Lethbridge, the Destination Project is the most significant development on campus since the construction of the University Hall in 1972. This project will transform our already amazing university by bringing together faculty and students from across science disciplines to work together in an innovative space.
Meanwhile, if you take a trip to the west end of Whoop-up Drive, you can see why west Lethbridge is growing so rapidly. The ongoing Royop commercial development and the Crossings residential development are growing rapidly, adding new restaurants, shopping and residential options for residents.
These developments are just the tip of the iceberg. Lethbridge has recently seen more than $1 billion in investment. A really exciting part of all of these investments is the fact that more than half are coming from the private sector.
This of course is highlighted by the unprecedented $350-million investment recently announced by Cavendish Farms, which is building a new, state-of-the-art frozen potato plant in Sherring Industrial Park. This is the largest investment in our city's history.
Lethbridge is gaining a reputation nationally and provincially as an attractive place for business and investment. In 2016, Canadian Business and PROFIT magazine ranked Lethbridge second among the most business-friendly cities Canada. Given all the investment we're seeing, I wouldn't be surprised to see Lethbridge rise to Number 1!
In addition, in 2016 Alberta Venture ranked Lethbridge second among the best communities in the province for business, stating: "In years of depressed oil prices, Lethbridge's diversified economy shines through the gloom."
In 2016, Lethbridge was also recognized by the Intelligent Community Forum as a Top 21 Intelligent Community of the Year. An Intelligent Community is one that makes sure it has the broadband and IT infrastructure needed to be competitive. Gaining a place among the year's Smart21 is considered a badge of honor as well as the first step to greater recognition as an Intelligent Community positioned to prosper in the broadband economy.
What makes Lethbridge a great place to do business? Lethbridge recently ranked 23rd among 133 global cities in terms of cost competitiveness, according to the 2016 KPMG Competitive Alternatives study. With no business, payroll or machinery tax, Lethbridge offers a low-cost operating environment with demonstrated savings in areas such as taxation, land, construction and transportation.
Lethbridge is well situated, with road, rail and air transportation systems including the Coutts port of entry into the United States within a one-hour drive. With both a college and a university, Lethbridge has no shortage of well-trained prospective employees to tap into.
Along with the obvious economic advantages to business in Lethbridge comes the important work-life balance that great companies seek for their employees. Being able to enjoy urban amenities without the big-city lifestyle challenges like traffic and long commutes is another great reason to choose Lethbridge. Competitively priced land makes buying in Lethbridge a viable option for many businesses.
In a time of economic uncertainty in our province, our diverse economy has helped us retain jobs and continue a steady pattern of growth. There were no recorded bankruptcies in Lethbridge in 2016 and only two in 2015. Our diverse economy has helped us be resilient and continue a steady pattern of growth. The unemployment rate in Lethbridge-Medicine Hat remains well below the provincial average.
The value of Lethbridge production was $5.8 Billion in gross domestic product in 2015, and it's expected to reach $6 billion by 2017.
With a population that reached nearly 97,000 in 2016, Lethbridge witnessed the largest annual rate of population growth of any Alberta city that conducts an annual census: 2.1-per-cent growth in Lethbridge compared to 0.4-per-cent in Calgary and a 1-percent decline in Red Deer.
So what does the population growth look like in our community? The exciting news is that the 30-39 age group is the largest and fastest growing demographic in Lethbridge. That's good news for business as it means a growing, skilled workforce. From the City's point of view, we are doing things to support this age group by creating recreation and culture activities that appeal to this growing demographic. This includes the renovation of Henderson Pool and the construction of the ATB Leisure Centre. We need to ensure that our city continues to meet the needs of young families.
We know that in order to accommodate growth, we have to plan for the future. This isn't something we can do in the confines of City Hall. This past year and over the next few years, we are putting more focus on meaningful community engagement. This is a way to bring residents into the conversation about what we need in the future – when we reach a population of 100K and beyond.
We also need to make decisions as a City Council that will help us prepare for growth. Some examples include our decision this year to advance the twinning of Whoop-Up Drive and the construction of Metis Trail to better manage traffic volume in the fast-growing area of the city.
Council also made decisions to move forward on important environmental initiatives like our strategy to divert waste from the Industrial, Commercial and Institutional sectors as well as the recent approval of residential curbside recycling.
In the past year, we've begun to make meaningful progress in building relationships with our Blackfoot neighbours. But we readily acknowledge that there is still a great deal more that needs to be done to ensure that Lethbridge is a gateway to opportunity for all who live here, including our Indigenous brothers and sisters.
Every year brings new challenges, but I believe that 2017 holds more great things for Lethbridge and for all of us who make our home here.
Mayor Chris Spearman
January 20, 2017