Go west to invest
While Western Canada's economy might not be churning on all cylinders, it is, perhaps ironically, still a good time to be optimistic about the future for this end of the country.
First, an investment is only as good as the people who work in and on the facilities. In Western Canada's case, it's home to a well-educated workforce. According to Statistics Canada, Alberta
(7.6 per cent) and Saskatchewan (seven per cent) have the highest proportions of the adult population with a registered apprenticeship certificate.
Meanwhile, According to the Conference Board of Canada's How Canada Performs report card, B.C. and Alberta received top rankings in high school (A+), college (A) and university (B) attainment. In addition to boasting a skilled workforce, Western Canada also offers investors suitable "feed stock" and transportation infrastructure — not only with an abundance of hydrocarbons with which the region is associated with, but also a diverse range of other industries.
With the housing market continuing to show growth not only in most of Canada but also the United States, Western Canada's forestry industry is also poised for success. Half of Saskatchewan is forested, representing 34 million hectares — of which 5.3 million hectares is available for commercial timber harvesting, according to the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service.
In Alberta, 58 per cent, or 38 million hectares, of Alberta is forested — 22 million hectares of which is considered suitable for harvest. And B.C. has roughly 55 million hectares of productive forests. These land bases contain a renewable resource that not only provides wood products, but also the basis for the pulp and paper industry. Consequently, industry growth is forecast to be approximately 1.7 per cent per year over the next decade, according to the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service
With its abundance of hydrocarbons, Western Canada is also well poised to use technology to continue to develop its important industries. Alberta, B.C. and Saskatchewan are the top three natural-gas producing provinces in Canada, while Alberta and Saskatchewan are first and second in oil production. Only Saudi Arabia and Venezuela rank ahead of Alberta for petroleum reserves. Though often overlooked because it is overshadowed by the hydrocarbon sector, B.C.'s mining industries represent the world’s largest concentration of exploration companies and mining professionals with more than 800 mining and mineral firms and 400 service suppliers, according to the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service Saskatchewan also contains one-fifth of the world’s uranium production and is the world’s leading potash producer, possessing half of known global reserves.
Meanwhile, it is likely only a matter of time before Saskatchewan enters the diamond industry in a big way. Despite the fact that the majority working diamond mines are in the Northwest Territories, Saskatchewan has one of the world’s largest diamond-bearing kimberlite fields.
Lastly, lest us not forget the industry onto which Alberta and Saskatchewan was first built around: agriculture. Saskatchewan has almost half of Canada's total cultivated farmland, which resulted in agricultural exports of $11.7 billion in 2013, according to the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service.
Alberta’s total farm area of 20.4 million hectares led to 2013 shipments of food and beverage products totalling $12.6 billion. And B.C.'s land based agriculture industry covers 2.6 million hectares. To benefit from all this activity, producers need to better link with consumers — and that means a strong transportation system and infrastructure.
Alberta is "centrally" located, with Calgary rapidly becoming home to a number of distribution centers for larger retailers to serve the approximately 10 million people in the Western Canadian market (include the Pacific Northwest, and that number's closer to 50 million consumers within a delivery area of less than 24 hours.) Although I now reside in Calgary, a good example of a community with diversity at work is Wainwright Alta., my first posting upon graduation. The community is a regional
centre for the local agriculture community, including a Bunge canola processing facility that distributes across the continent by truck and rail; a mix of oil and gas fields; and Canadian Forces base Wainwright.
Many other communities in Western Canada are similarly situated and taking advantage of the natural endowments and talents of the region. Though not running on “all cylinders,” Western Canada still has a lot of potential. The expression “Go West young man (sic)” and find your future helped develop Western Canada, and still remains true today. Ian Verhappen is a professional engineer,
ISA Fellow, certified automation professional and a recognized authority on industrial communications and process analyzer technologies with 25-plus years’ experience in the hydrocarbon industry.