By Nikki Jamieson
Alta Newspaper Group – Coaldale
A local ag-business group has been busy strengthening stakeholder relationships and promoting opportunities in the region.
Representatives from Canada’s Premier Food Corridor — a consortium of regional economic professionals from Lethbridge County, the City of Lethbridge, the Town of Coaldale, the M.D. of Taber and the Town of Taber, who work to promote the region as the ideal destination for agribusiness investment — have been attending events and discussions with entities such as the University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge College and Farming Smarter, as strengthening partnerships with organizations such as Plant Protein Alliance of Alberta, Calgary Economic Development through their agribusiness study, presenting at the Alberta Irrigation Districts Association conference working with Inside Education to help ensure future students know about the region. CPFC members have also been advocating government on things such as infrastructure/stimulus spending, policy and trade issues pertinent to the industry.
“Because of this advocacy, CPFC has become recognized provincially as a brand, acknowledged in speeches by both the Premier of Alberta and his Ministers during recent Highway 3 twinning and Exhibition Park expansion funding announcements, and recognized as a destination for investment by Western Economic Diversification,” said Trevor Lewington, CEO of Economic Development Lethbridge.
“The demand for high-quality value-added food products is only increasing, but trade connections are in transition because of all of the disruption from the COVID pandemic crisis. We’ve fielded increased inquiries for ag products from domestic companies in other parts of the country, and have seen increased inquiries for up and coming ag investments in greenhousing and plant protein processing,” said Ben Young, economic development officer for the Town of Taber and a regional officer for the CPFC.
While there has been some downturn, the agri-food sector has remained fairly stable throughout the pandemic and the continued demand for products mean that a full recovery is very likely. Young noted the pandemic has “underscored the need for advocacy” on issues such as reliable broadband, and highlighted both domestic and international links to logistics and supply chains, as well as the need to improve market access, such as work on the Highway 4 ‘Western Gateway Trade and Logistics Corridor’.
One big development this past summer has been the Highway 3 twinning announcement, with the provincial government announcing $150 million in funding to twin a 46 km-long stretch of highway between Taber and Burdett as part of the province’s economic recovery plan.
“This announcement was a long-awaited display of confidence from the provincial government in the potential for continued growth of the agriculture industry in this region,” said Peter Casurella, executive director of the SouthGrow Regional Initiative. “It signals to both existing industry, and those who are looking at the corridor as a potential area of expansion, that the government believes in the opportunity that is here and is willing to support industry with world-class transportation links. The twinning will certainly improve road safety and allow for better flow of raw agriculture input to processors. We have high hopes that we will see continued progress on building out the highway in the near future.”
Recent funding announcements for Exhibition Park in Lethbridge have also been welcomed news by the CPFC, and Young hinted at some “very exciting private investments” in the region that haven’t been made public yet.
While the pandemic did put a halt on some of their momentum as members turned their focus on helping the immediate business needs of their communities, now that the focus is on economic recovery and they are back to work promoting the region’s assists and opportunities.
“We are continuing to work on building the CPFC brand and enhancing stakeholder engagement,” said Lewington. “The COVID pandemic has certainly changed how we can participate in conference and trade shows but we are capitalizing on every opportunity we can to market and promote the region.”