Community Perspectives on Local Economy

Many residents consulted for the Community Sustainability Plan emphasized the importance of a more diversified economy. Besides wanting to minimize the impact of shifting global resource markets, respondents like the idea of fostering small businesses that “make and spend locally.”

Diversify Our Economy
“Diversification should be in the area of medical services, post-secondary education arts and culture, music and recreation (eco-style),” one resident said, “these would be region hub strengths.” Some suggested developing our trade corridor to Prince Rupert and putting energy into heritage tourism, for example by offering historical tours in period dress. Others saw wisdom in building on our resource riches by becoming leaders in energy sources such as wood waste pyrolysis, electricity co-generation, bio-diesel and wind. “We have lots of wind,” one noted.
“Ideally, it would be great to see emerging niches in our economy; however, our bread and butter is natural resource development and extraction, so one needs to be realistic in this area. We cannot compromise our bread and butter in the interest of developing trendy economies.”- Community Consultation Participant
Expand Desirable Careers
While hoping for a more diverse economy, some residents fear that efforts to diversify will result in lower paying jobs than the resource sector typically provides. Tourism offers a case in point. It’s a sector frequently mentioned as a natural fit, given our status as a Gateway to the Northern Rockies. Yet there is concern that the resulting work may be low paid and seasonal.

Improve Our Development Climate
Residents cautioned that our development climate may limit economic growth. They expressed the following concerns:
  • Although the community is well prepared for commercial and residential development, there is a shortage of serviced industrial land available for development
  • Land and building values are keeping development away
  • The town’s long-term planning process needs improvement
  • Some development projects are not completed on time
Make it easier to use rail and bus. As one resident noted, while Via Rail and Greyhound services are viable and welcome, it can be a challenge to use them due to scheduling, cost and lack of secure overnight parking. Other residents also suggested expanding in-town transit service, stating “frequency is insufficient to meet people’s expectations.”

Moving Beyond Extraction
The Foothills Research Institute (formerly Foothills Model Forest) demonstrates that Hinton and area has what it takes to diversify its presence in the resource sector.

A leader in developing and sharing innovative science, the institute is advancing the field of integrated forest management in collaboration with more than 100 partners from around the world. Those include forest companies, governments, gas companies, Aboriginal communities, universities, environmental groups and not-for-profit organizations. Through the institute, Hinton is becoming known as a place to learn about sustainable forestry practice.

Make Services Available & Affordable
Many residents said they cannot purchase everything they need in and near Hinton due to a lack of vendors. For the goods and services that are available, the perception is that costs are much higher than in Edson or Edmonton.
What’s more, quality is seen to be lower, especially for groceries.

The 2010 Alberta Spatial Price Survey provides some data to check those perceptions. A survey of about 280 items found the average price of all commodities a shade lower in Hinton than in Edmonton, with an index of 97.3 to Edmonton’s 100. Food prices were higher in Hinton, however, with an index of 104.3. Shelter appears less expensive than in Edmonton, with an index of 87.7 based on a survey of five locations.

Suggestions for expanding our retail sector include fine dining, authentic food, women’s clothes, sporting goods and other specialty shops and souvenirs specific to Hinton.
“Employment was the main reason for living in Hinton. This means that any softening of the economy may result in the working age population diminishing. However, there is also evidence that the key factors in population retention are the lifestyles available in Hinton and family ties.”- Town of Hinton Social Development Strategy Hargreaves & Associates, 2009