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Business Beat: A New Attraction and Retention Tool for Business

How many of you listen to CBC Radio? True confession; I do, and today at lunch I listened to the executive director of Calgary Arts Development talk about the opportunities the economic climate and COVID are providing to mid-sized cities around the globe. He was, of course, touting Calgary as a mid-sized city which makes sense if you’re thinking globally and contemplating attracting investment from places like New York and Chicago, but let’s narrow that down to a provincial outlook.

Medicine Hat is considered a mid-sized city, so what might the opportunity be for cities like the Hat?

Alberta is suffering from two large scale economic disruptors. The first is radical deterioration of the oil and gas industry. Cost structures have declined severely and competition from low-cost production has flooded the markets, prices are volatile and unstable, and environmental perspective and social activism is winning the popular argument that as a nation, Canada needs to start using and developing alternative energies and methods to replace oil and gas. The second disruptor is the COVID crisis.

At the outset of COVID, the province shut down all but essential services. The shutdown lasted approximately 16 weeks and even then, a structured re-launch plan was developed to open the economy in stages to help to ensure hospitals were not overrun by a second wave of COVID sufferers. Businesses went to great lengths to re-launch, there were hazard assessments and PPE requirements, physical distancing rules and limits to the number of people allowed to gather. Then school attendance returned and now, at the end of October, there is discussion on whether sanctions and closures should or could be reinstated to stop the increase in the number of COVID cases, which have been steadily on the rise through October.

Anecdotally everyone who lives in Medicine Hat understands the benefits of living in a mid-sized city. Our commute times are non-existent, our housing costs are lower, our park space per capita is unmatched, we have social and recreational facilities that large cities dream about.

All of this may be eclipsed in importance though, by someone discovering that we have had less than 25 percent of Alberta average COVID cases per 100,000 population (less than 18 percent of the cases in Calgary) thus far.

Let’s break it down into cases/100,000 people so we are comparing apples to apples:

Alberta has had 24,261 COVID cases in a population of 4,345,737; that’s 558 cases/100,000 people. Calgary has had 10,871 COVID cases in a population of 1,547,484; that’s 702 cases/100,000 people. Edmonton has had 8,474 COVID cases in a population of 1,461,182; that’s 579 cases/100,000 people. Medicine Hat has had 85 COVID cases in a population of 65,441; that’s 129 cases/100,000 people.

So how does this translate into economic benefit for mid-sized cities? The numbers above give rise to smaller communities perhaps experiencing less pandemic intensity than our larger urban centres.

Medicine Hat has had a total of 85 COVID cases throughout the crisis and this may very well become our newest and most compelling attraction tool. With our country facing a $300B deficit and as economic conditions in Alberta tighten from the pandemic and the radical decline in the energy industry, smaller centres will be able to promote the fact that COVID didn’t disrupt as intensely and when it did, it was brought under reasonable control more quickly than in larger cities.

Sandra Milne is the Regional Innovation Network Coordinator at APEX Alberta.

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