2012 Best Communities for Business in Western Canada

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Wood Buffalo name pic

Median household income
Average lease rate per square foot (office)
Cost of Serviced Industrial Land
Effective business property tax rate

Best Community for Business in Alberta

photograph Greg Halinda

Up until a few months ago, THE U.K. edition of GQ had probably never been a big seller in Fort McMurray. But that changed in March, when the upscale men's magazine ran a story, "No Country For Young Men," that described life in Fort McMurray as hell.

It was, by any standard, a bad article. But what made it worse is that the real story of Fort McMurray was buried near the bottom of the diatribe, when the author described a man whose friend had lived there "for six years and earned so much money working as a scaffolder he bought a gold mine."

In that one brief passage, the author inadvertently describes why the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo is the best community in Alberta for business. The term "boom" doesn't quite do justice to the speed and scope of development in the community. The population has nearly doubled over the last 10 years to 116,821, and that figure is expected to surpass 200,000 by 2026. The average household income is easily the highest in the country at $189,458.

There is so much development going on that it's nearly impossible to keep track of it all. There's the new business park, a major expansion of the airport and the local post-secondary institution, and billions of dollars in new oil sands projects, not to mention the community's comprehensive plan to more fully develop its downtown core.

Tyrone Brass, the owner of Bayzik Oil Sands Electric and a vice-president with the Northeast Alberta Aboriginal Business Association, has seen it all first-hand. He came to Fort McMurray from the Key Reserve in Saskatchewan in 1979 and settled permanently in the community in 1988. After 17 years working for Syncrude, he decided to branch out on his own. He continues to believe that his community is the best place in the world to own and operate a business.

Brass doesn't deny there are challenges associated with doing business in the area: the labour market is notoriously overheated, while local infrastructure remains inadequate for the needs of the community and the businesses in it. But Brass believes that a little preparation can go a long way. "It should encourage people to do a little bit of homework before they come," he says. "Rent is an issue; the high price of property can be an issue; the shortage of manpower can be an issue. But if you've considered all that and then rolled it out there, the opportunity is even bigger."

That opportunity, he says, all comes down to the local economy's insatiable demand for just about everything. "Whether it's manpower or equipment or technology or knowledge, you never have enough," he says. "You're always in a perpetual state of need, so the opportunity is there. This is an incredible place for someone with a little bit of imagination and entrepreneurialism." In a global economy that's still fighting its way out of the doldrums, entrepreneurs looking for opportunity just might find a gold mine of their own in Wood Buffalo.

Population 116,821
Population growth, 2001–2010 (%) 98.56
Average lease rate, Office ($/square foot) n/a
Cost of serviced industrial land ($/acre) $1,200,000
Household income ($) 189,458
Average home price ($)
Effective property tax for business (mill rate) 5.78
Wait time for development permits (days) 14
Largest employer
(with number of employees)
Syncrude Canada (5,500)
Major projects under construction
(with budget if available)
Suncor 'Voyageur' (Phase 1 and 2) - $7 billion
Unemployment Rate 4.3
Average Age
Percentage of the people over 65 0.8

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June 2012 Contents