New economic development manager sees ‘huge’ potential in Red Deer

He’s just three weeks into his new job as Red Deer’s land and economic development manager — and 2,500 km removed from his last job with a private development company in London, Ont.

John Sennema is looking forward to working as the City of Red Deer’s new land and economic development manager.

He’s just three weeks into his new job as Red Deer’s land and economic development manager — and 2,500 km removed from his last job with a private development company in London, Ont.

But John Sennema is quickly learning the lay of the land here, and likes what he sees.

“I think you have huge opportunities here, because I think there is that segment of society that doesn’t want to go to the Edmontons and Calgarys, or they can’t afford the Edmontons or Calgarys, or the quality of life wouldn’t be what it is here.”

He and his wife Nancy fall into this category.

They were eager to relocate west from their home in London, but didn’t want to end up in either of Alberta’s two big centres.

The city in between seemed a much better option.

“I really like the scale,” said Sennema.

“And I like your path systems — I think those are amazing.”

Red Deer is easy to get around, he added, and there’s a lot to like from a planner and developer’s perspective. The city has plenty of land and tremendous potential for growth, he noted.

“It’s just how do we do it in an organized, sustainable fashion.”

With a long history of work with private development companies, Sennema has had plenty of experience dealing with municipal planning departments — including as a consultant.

As head of Red Deer’s Land and Economic Development Department, a position that became available with the transfer of Howard Thompson to the Inspections and Licensing Department, Sennema hopes to be able to pursue progressive ideas like walkable communities.

“I’m a huge fan of connectivity,” he said, describing how he’d like to ensure people here have the option of walking or cycling.

“What I’m a big advocate of is giving people that opportunity.”

Sennema is also pleased that Red Deer does much of its own land development, pointing to Queens Business Park as an example of a forward-thinking initiative that should pay economic dividends in the future. And he likes the fact there’s an economic development component to his new job.

Sennema would like to see greater diversification of the city’s economy, which he thinks will occur naturally with continued growth.

He said he’s been struck by the volume of traffic that passes by Red Deer each day on Hwy 2.

“To me, that’s kind of a bit of a missed opportunity. It’d be nice to draw people through our town.”

But Sennema also stressed that a priority for him will be ensuring that existing businesses in the city are able to grow and thrive.

Some of the differences he’s noticed between Red Deer and Ontario communities include the preponderance of rear lanes here, the fact that buildings tend to be older in Ontario, and that brick is much more common there.

Sennema has also noted that Alberta communities are “very garage oriented,” with this feature figuring prominently in many house designs. Often, homes have front and rear garages, which he attributes to the weather and the vehicle culture here.

Sennema and his wife Nancy, who is an early childhood educator, have two sons: Jordon, 18, and Justin, 17.

“I think there are good opportunities for them out here,” he said.

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