Lethbridge’s No. 2 ranking on Alberta Venture magazine’s list of Best Communities for Business is a validation of a concerted effort to diversify the city’s economy.
As announced last week, Lethbridge sits behind only Edmonton in the ranking which is featured in the magazine’s June edition. In compiling the ranking, the magazine compared communities according to population growth, employment rate, tax rate and median home price to determine overall economic strength.
Alberta Venture editor Michael Ganley noted that the communities on this year’s list “remind us that our economy is not the sum of its oil woes. We forget that Alberta has a thriving agricultural sector, for example, and world-class educational and research institutions and entrepreneur-fed scenes.”
That description fits Lethbridge to a “T.”
Agriculture has long been a staple of the economy in the Lethbridge area, but in recent years, the city has made tremendous strides as a research centre and technology-based centre. Between technology efforts spearheaded by the University of Lethbridge and Lethbridge College, and the work of tecconnect, the business incubation and development facility started by Economic Development Lethbridge in 2011, Lethbridge has elevated its “knowledge economy” considerably.
Historically speaking, Lethbridge’s road to economic diversity is a long one that stretches from the community’s earliest days when the whiskey trade was the area’s primary business. Then coal was discovered along the banks of the Oldman River and Lethbridge began its evolution into an urban centre. The introduction of irrigation in southern Alberta made farming a viable industry which, along with the area’s ranching and livestock sector, gave Lethbridge a strong agricultural base. Eventually food-processing businesses expanded the city’s economy, and as the city grew, manufacturing was added to the mix.
In 1957, the city became home to a post-secondary educational facility, Lethbridge Community College, to be followed later by the University of Lethbridge, and a strong educational component became an important part of the community. Today, the college is a model for cutting-edge training in a variety of trades while the university is internationally respected as a research institution.
Oil certainly helps lubricate the Alberta economy, and Lethbridge isn’t entirely immune to the effects of any downturn in the oilpatch. But thanks to a more diversified economy, Lethbridge is better equipped than many parts of the province to weather the ups and downs of the province’s oil-fuelled economy. The high ranking on Alberta Venture’s list is recognition of that.
That diversity serves Lethbridge in good stead, especially in the wake of the oil industry’s troubles. It was good news to Economic Development Lethbridge that the city’s economic versatility is being noticed.
“We’ve just got so many good things that are working in our favour at the moment,” said EDL CEO Trevor Lewington, adding, “Lethbridge is very different than the rest of the economy.”
To borrow a phrase from the French, “Vive la différence.”