Lloydminster Economic Development Corporation: Twin town – Ward Read

For businesses looking to venture into new cities, navigating the pros and cons of each jurisdiction's regulations can be cumbersome and error-prone. Ward Read, CEO at Lloydminster Economic Development Corporation, looks at how Canada's only bi-provincial city is exploiting its status to create a multicultural, industry-nurturing powerhouse.

Alberta and Saskatchewan didn't exist when Canada's Lloydminster settlement was founded over a century ago. Colonialists had inadvertently laid the foundations for a city that would later be divided in two by the provincial borders of the vast North American nation's fourth and sixth-biggest provinces.

What was intended as an exclusively British utopia is now a cosmopolitan, bi-provincial metropolis that is swiftly becoming a magnet for international business.

Few cities across the continent straddle multiple administrative zones, transcending borders. The solution to the inevitable legislative conflicts where this is the case has been to divide cities in two, as in Texarkana in the US, where one half is in Texas, and the other in Arkansas. Businesses locating to such places must choose between administrations, which is a serious decision that might have profound ramifications for growth, trade and taxes. While the city of Lloydminster resides on a provincial border, however, it has elected not to make businesses opt for one side over the other.

"We're in a unique position," says Ward Read, CEO at Lloydminster Economic Development Corporation (LEDC), a non-profit corporation that promotes the cityand its economy. "When residents and businesses locate nearby, they have to consider whether they want to be in Alberta, or in Saskatchewan.

"Sometimes, there are reasons to go way or the other, at other times, it doesn't matter a bit. This doesn't exist in other any other city, anywhere in the world."

Community spirit

With an economy based firmly on energy development, businesses can be assured that Lloydminster will continue to thrive for the foreseeable future. Even after half a century of heavy extraction, as well as the recent drop in dollars per barrel, it has maintained its triple-A credit rating and its population has continued growing.

It's now ranked first nationwide in medium and small-sized cities by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB).

"Our other core sector from day one has been agriculture," says Read. "Lloydminster has strong crop and beef cattle production, and these are the two primary industries in terms of producing, extracting and exporting. They keep our economy strong; businesses that can keep shipping products can weather any storms, as we've seen with the price of oil."

CFIB's last annual report placed Lloydminster first in the country for entrepreneurial spirit; over the seven years the round-up has run, Lloydminster is the only city to rank in the top five every time.

"That really shows the spirit and the nature of our community to generate new ideas, to support each other and businesses, to build off these for both the individual and collective well-being," says Read. Given the entrepreneurial vibe of the city, it's easy to see why so many businesses are keen to locate there.

"Alberta and Saskatchewan are probably the top two performing provincial areas over the last few years, and the strength of our economy means we're in a market where businesses can succeed relatively easy," says Read. "If you're selling to consumers, our household incomes are well above the Canadian average, so even within our more affluent provinces, our residents generally have higher wealth levels. We have some of the highest labour participation rates, at around 80%, of those who could work, which is well above provincial and national averages. And, of course, unemployment is lower.

"People here are starting to build wealth and accumulate savings. They're purchasing homes and outfitting them, and supporting their children's activities. Our community's average age is 32 years old, which is young enough to be a leading business service centre for years."

In addition to the vast number of businesses relocating to Lloydminster, people are flocking to the bi-provincial city. Its population is one of Canada's fastest growing, with the most recent municipal census demonstrating a rise in the region of 3% per year between 2006 and 2011. Since 2013, that figure has stood at over 6% and despite already being one of the most developed metropolitan regions, it's the tenth fastest-growing community in the country.

Beyond borders

"We're becoming a far more diverse city," says Read. "As you might expect in the middle of the Canadian prairies, we wouldn't necessarily have the cultural diversity of a major metropolis like Vancouver, but that is drastically changing. During the last census period, our population in the city grew 15.7%, but our immigrant population grew by nearly 300%, so we are attracting newcomers from outside Canada's borders."

Considering the competition Lloydminster faces from local rivals - Leduc and Red Deer in Alberta, North Battleford in Saskatchewan - the figures for the rising population and immigration are all the more impressive.

"They're all fantastic communities, but what has really set us apart from our peers is the strength of our entrepreneurial community," says Read. "It stems from this modern location, which is a fantastic thing. Also, dealing with one government is enough, and having to deal with two can be a huge challenge. So, historically, we have an attitude of overcoming barriers and hurdles, whether for our government, or for our business community."

In a bid to foster this environment, the city's administration is actively encouraging tourism. Its unique geographic status has enabled Lloydminster to host major sporting events from both provinces, including the Alberta and Saskatchewan hockey championships.

"We're also looking to improve the strength and impact of our manufacturing sector," says Read. "The robustness of our agriculture and energy means that we are relatively underrepresented in manufacturing, despite the benefits of the two provinces and their connections to logistics hubs."

Perhaps the most obvious benefit to being the border location is its strategic positioning with regards to transport. There are connections to both of Canada's national rail services and the highways link directly to various ports, which is good news for manufacturers hoping to export products in bulk.

Build it, they will come

Lloydminster's strong economic growth over the last decade has also fuelled a construction boom, with annual investment in the area rising from $50 million a year to a record in $188 million in 2012.

"For our small city, that's pretty incredible," says Read. "There's more construction per capita here than in Calgary, which is generally viewed as Alberta's major city and development location. Of course, we can't compete directly in terms of sheer volume, but any common sizing metric will show that we're outperforming our peers. Perhaps in 2016/2017 we'll be breaking $200 million."

With population, construction and economic growth all expected to continue growing exponentially, businesses considering locating to Lloydminster can rest assured they'll do the same. It may not be the British paradise settlers envisaged more than a century ago, but as things stand, it's one of Canada's fastest-growing cities and capable of attracting business from all over the globe.

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