St. Albert saw stronger business growth in 2023 than in the past five years, according to Michael Erickson, the city’s director of economic development.
More than 240 new licensed businesses opened in 2023. That’s 40 more than the past five years, which have averaged around 200 new businesses a year.
But it’s not the only metric that has Erickson excited.
“We’re not even at the end of the year, but we are experiencing the highest construction permit values in the last 10 years,” he said. “We’re currently sitting at $220 million in building permit value, and the last time we raised even close to that was back in 2017.”
Mixed use and vertical developments, such as Riverbank Landing, Saint A Square and East Village, surged in St. Albert this year.
“Those are all pretty impressive high-density projects that are pretty new to St. Albert,” he said. “Those are the types of properties we would see in major centres across the country.”
Erickson said the city also saw another strong year of industrial growth. He pointed to the Anthony Henday Business Park, which currently has 423,000 square feet under construction and should grow by an additional 257,000 square feet next year.
And there was robust apartment construction this year, he said. The sector grew by almost $16 million in assessment, which is about 17 to 18 per cent of the city’s total assessment growth for residential, according to Erickson.
“What all those indicators suggest is that there is a confidence in St. Albert as a place to do business and a place to invest,” he said.
Erickson expects some of these trends to continue in 2024.
Purpose-built rental construction should grow in the new year.
“We saw record interprovincial migration into Alberta this year,” he said. And he expects many newcomers will be drawn to St. Albert.
“With some of the interest rates and inflation pressures, more people are looking for rental options vs. ownership options,” he said.
Another trend he expects to continue in 2024 is the growth of US retail chains in the St. Albert market.
American cookie chain Crumbl Cookies opened a St. Albert location in November, and Erickson said the city has seen interest from other US brands such as Chick-fil-A and Shake Shack.
The growth in transportation, logistics and warehousing that has been happening across the province since the pandemic collapsed supply chains should also continue.
In 2024, St. Albert will aim to “be the best of the best when it comes to midsize cities,” Erickson said.
Rob Roach, deputy chief economist at ATB Financial, said that in the new year, St. Albert’s economy will face the same struggles as the rest of Canada.
“Everyone’s in the same boat facing those higher borrowing costs, same for households,” Roach said. “And it's one that isn't over because we don't think interest rates are going to come down or start to come down until, you know, maybe summer of next year.”
But Roach said that smaller centres such as St. Albert face an extra challenge in attracting skilled labour.
Migrants to the province may find Edmonton or Calgary more attractive. However, “as people discover the quality of life, there might actually be a benefit for businesses to attract people to come work for them because they want to live in St. Albert,” he said.
Alberta is likely to do better than most parts of the country in terms of economic growth, Roach predicts.
“Even though Alberta will grow, it's going to be a tough year, because high interest rates, a lot of uncertainty and people you know, very anxious about what's next,” he said.
Roach expects AI programs to become even more ubiquitous in the new year, and businesses will continue to adapt to the influence of machine learning.
“The challenge is being strategic,” he said. “Which of the new technologies do you actually need, and how are you going to use them? You might not need to be jumping the gun on every latest thing we hear about, but you really need to be trying to figure out your needs before you get left behind.”