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OPINION: An industry on the upswing


Imagine there's a booming industry on St. Albert's doorstep, and then imagine St. Albertans contributing to and benefiting from the billions of dollars in investment flowing into that region.

It's not a pipe dream, despite the economic hardships that are still being felt across the province. In Alberta's Industrial Heartland, signs point toward investment soaring over the next decade in the Heartland's various industries. Research shows massive growth coming to the petrochemical industry, and the Heartland is responsible for 43 per cent of Canada's basic chemical manufacturing efforts.

The Alberta Industrial Heartland Association (AIHA) believes investment could almost double to $70 billion by 2030 (right now, investment is sitting at a comfortable $40 billion, and companies that are operating in the Heartland have generated over 6,000 direct jobs and more than 25,000 indirect jobs). Last week, the association held its annual stakeholder conference, during which executive director Mark Plamondon told attendees that investment is only possible if companies have confidence in the region. That confidence appears to already exist, as Dow Inc. just announced it would be expanding its petrochemical operations.

The Heartland has seen other big announcements in recent months. In April of last year, the federal government announced it was committing $49 million toward a $4.5-billion plastics plant in Sturgeon County, a project expected to create 200 permanent jobs and about 1,910 construction jobs. In August, the province announced it was investing in infrastructure by twinning Hwy. 15 near Fort Saskatchewan – a project Sturgeon County Mayor Alanna Hnatiw said was vital to ensure the Heartland has the infrastructure it needs to grow. As part of that announcement, a bridge contract went to St. Albert's Alberco.

The momentum has kept up since then. In October, the province decided to extend its petrochemical diversification program to encourage investment and diversify the region. Morinville-St. Albert UCP MP Dale Nally said that announcement was good news for his constituency and would help create jobs. In December, Cando Rail Services announced it would build a 302-acre rail terminal in the Heartland, the biggest investment the company has ever made.

Yes, the good news just keeps coming – and that means more and better paying jobs for the region.

The woes of Alberta’s oil and gas industry have been well documented while developments in the Heartland have flown somewhat under the radar. Alberta's economy, by no means, is out of the woods yet. But the future for the petrochemical industry looks bright, and as the Heartland inevitably gains more momentum, so too will the region. A report from Deloitte indicates that petrochemicals are expected to drive growth in world oil demand more than gas or diesel. The Heartland is positioning itself for a future that includes a huge growth in the electric car market.

If the AIHA is right and investment doubles in the next 10 years, the economic impact will be felt for decades to come.

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