Development is booming in Lacombe County, a sign central Alberta is on the right side of the boom-bust cycle, says a planner.
In 2020, about $40 million worth of development permits were handed out in Lacombe County. Last year, the number was $90 million.
And that does not come close to telling the full story, said Dale Freitag, the county’s director of planning services.
“Our numbers have gone up exponentially. But those are the only ones we give development permits for.”
County permits are not needed for agriculture buildings or most oil and gas industry construction, for example. That means two huge greenhouse expansions — one worth $25 million alone— does not show up on 2021 permit totals.
“When we say we had $90 million in development permit activity, that number is probably skewed by 50 per cent last year alone by (projects) that did not require permits,” he said. “I would say we’re probably in the range of $140 million of true construction value last year.”
The momentum shows no sign of slowing this year, with $30 million worth of permits approved to the end of April.
“People are building, and they are not building $400,000 homes anymore. We’re getting $900,000, $1 million homes that are getting built. It’s crazy.”
Why? Alberta’s boom-bust cycle, he said.
“It’s just our waves. We went through a wave in ‘07, and then in ‘13 it really slowed down. Then we went through eight years of it being slow.
“Now, it’s back and going fast again — like it always does.”
The last bust lasted longer than usual, but the cycle continues, he said.
Soaring world oil prices have always fuelled Alberta’s prosperity, and this time is no different.
Other factors have been thrown into the mix. COVID-19 appears to be waning, which has boosted optimism and in many parts of the country caused house prices to spike which. That is making the affordable housing available in most parts of Alberta more tempting.
“House prices in other parts of Canada are atrocious so we’re truly getting people from other provinces coming here because they can make more money and pay less for a house.”
The pandemic also showed many companies and their employees that working remotely is doable, which makes living in Lacombe County an option for many more people.
Freitag said the county’s experience is not unique. City of Lacombe has also seen a big increase in commercial activity and the rest of central Alberta won’t be left behind, he predicts.
“Success grows here,” said county Reeve Barb Shepherd, in a statement accompanying an announcement the county had hired a new economic development officer and was embarking on a new economic development strategy.
A pair of surveys are planned to get hear what residents and businesses see as emerging opportunities and key challenges to be overcome.
An online resident survey is available at lacombecounty.ca until June 10.
A second survey aimed at businesses will seek out their take on challenges and opportunities. The county hopes to use that information to develop programs and services to spur business growth.