Well we are just over two months into 2017, and one thing is abundantly clear is how things are different compared to this time last year.
Looking back at 2016, the economy was a little dismal. There were empty buildings around Slave Lake, we had lost some great companies and many people were adversely affected by this economic downturn.
Now we are in 2017 and find there is a renewed hope in the business community and in residents! There are countless signs of business expanding with new hiring, new businesses that have started up and capital projects being talked about. The big question is whether things will get back to where they were before the downturn.
Not all was bad in 2016! Luckily the Lumber industry in Slave Lake and surrounding area was superb. Having four forestry mills in our area definitely helped our stabilize the regional economy during a troubled economic year. Vanderwell’s introduced another shift and many unemployed oilfield workers migrated to a new industry.
This winter continued success of the wood industry can be seen on a daily basis. All you have to do is park on the highway for about twenty minutes and the multitude of loaded log trucks going by is a definite indication this industry is still feeling momentum.
But what is really exciting is in the last 10 weeks the oilfield “feels” like its gaining some momentum. One of the benefits of owning a restaurant and being Mayor at the same time is I get to talk to a lot of different people. It’s also a big cross section of people from all different walks of life. What’s really exciting is in the last few weeks I’ve heard something I have not heard in a long time. Words like “opportunity”, “drilling”, “projects”, “hiring”, “busier than we have ever been”, have been used on a regular basis.
What excites me the most is for the first time in a long time, I’m hearing hope. It seems that big companies like Husky and Pennwest have been divesting some of their assets and in our area this means layoffs and downsizing.
Looking to the future, we are hearing new names like Delta and Cardinal, which are encouraging. These companies are spending money and investing in our region’s future. CNRL is drilling and Wabasca is feeling a bit of a lift in the work in the area. There are some smaller companies that are saying they are busier than they have ever been. There are some bigger companies that are saying work is steady and they have some projects on the horizon. There are companies hiring, and companies looking at empty spaces around town.
Also apparent this year is residents are being more cautious. They are cautious of what they spend, and what they plan for in the future. Companies are the same. They have learned from this recent down turn and those that have survived understand there is a new way to do business. Industry is one thing; commercial business is another.
The recent Chamber of Commerce Business Awards is proof business is still top of mind. It was great to see the enthusiasm at this room, there was a sense of change coming and some of the worst days were behind us. We spent a lot of time in 2016 talking about how bad the economy was, but looking back at history, this is when some of the greatest innovations come. During rough times, “true” entrepreneur sticks their neck out there and chases opportunity.
Here at home, in 2016, we saw a new clothing stores, new gym, coffee shop, consignment store, food establishment and even a new liquor store open. Not only that we saw two oilfield guys really go outside their box and start a brewery!
Signs of success are all around us. The biggest change in 2017 though is the attitudes. The signs of possibility, opportunity, and growth are out there. Right now it seems fragile and feels like anything louder than a whisper will chase it away. For those much older than I, they have seen this before. The economy goes in cycles and much like the rest of our lives, there is a lot of ups and downs.
I do believe the worst is behind us, and feel like things are getting better and the economy stronger. One thing that is apparent it will be some time if ever before we see the kind of growth Slave Lake experienced for the last ten years. Companies are going to be cautious and growth will occur at a much more steady pace. This is all just my “gut feeling” thou, but at the end of the day it feels like a much better way to start the year!