Population growth good for economy

Alberta’s natural population growth continues to lead the country and the Red Deer region is just short of the provincial average.

Alberta’s natural population growth continues to lead the country and the Red Deer region is just short of the provincial average.

Natural population is the birth rate minus the death rate and does not include immigration.

According to Statistics Canada, Alberta’s natural population growth averages 7.7 people per 1,000. Wood Buffalo-Cold Lake, which includes Fort McMurray, has highest rate in the province at 12.3. Calgary is slightly above average at 8.5. Red Deer region is at 7.3. Edmonton is 6.9.

The statistics are from annual demographic estimates from July 2011 to June 2012.

Todd Hirsch, chief economist with ATB Financial, said the natural population growth in the Red Deer region, which include communities in Red Deer, Lacombe and Ponoka counties and reserves, is good for its economy.

“It will eventually lead to more workers in the workforce and it will have an immediate affect on certain retailers. Obviously young families tend to purchase more goods and services,” said Hirsch, who looked at Alberta’s natural population in one of his recent Daily Economic Comment columns.

“Red Deer is one of the communities attracting a lot of young families, maybe because a city the size of Red Deer is an attractive option for families. Housing is more affordable. There is the pretense that it’s maybe safer for children so a lot of young families are attracted to those medium sized cities like Red Deer,” said Hirsch on Tuesday.

“Other cities Red Deer’s size, like Medicine Hat and Lethbridge, they don’t have that same natural population growth. Its population growth tends to be older. It’s not driven nearly to the same extent as Red Deer is by the oil and gas sector.”

He said Alberta’s natural population has always been higher than the national average simply because its population is the youngest in the country.

“It’s increasing lately because even more young people are moving to Alberta. They are moving here for job opportunities and fortunately for Alberta, a lot of them are choosing to settle and raise and family,” Hirsch said.

Valdene Callin, community relations manager with Family Services of Central Alberta, said the region’s young population does bring challenges.

“What we’re finding is less and less families have ties to the community. They moved here for their jobs,” Callin said.

In the past, children lived near grandparents and other relatives, families made connections through church and knew their neighbours, she said.

“The kids aren’t out on the street because they aren’t as physically active as they used to be so you’re not getting to know your neighbour. It’s not happening as naturally as when we were kids. We were all thrown out of the house when we were young and you played outside for eight hours.”

More parents are now looking for opportunities to meet other parents and help their children make friends. Family Services of Central Alberta and other groups are having a hand in making that happen, she said.

“They’re definitely looking for socialization and a lot of ‘mom-preneurs’ have started businesses where they are bringing women together. We’ve got momstown in town and we’ve got Mommy Connection in town and we’ve got our Parent Link centre with a play centre up at Parkland Mall.

“We all have a need to connect, is the bottom line.”

Family Services of Central Alberta also tries to fill the gap when it comes to educating parents.

“Parents just don’t have the information they used to. They can Google absolutely anything they want. But is it accurate? Does it make sense? How do you implement it? What we’re finding is our parenting course is becoming popular. Families are looking for help with some of the issues they’re experiencing,” Callin said.

Tara Lodewyk, Red Deer’s planning manager, said as a young community, the city is working to include social areas in neighbourhoods and wants more grocery-orientated commercial spaces within walking distance for families.

“Some of the things we work at is trying to provide a range of housing types and make sure that developers provide a mixture of buildings, unit sizes, housing types, options, that would appeal to a range of incomes and family types,” Lodewyk said.