January 21st, 2017

Plenty of promise for better times ahead in 2017


By Medicine Hat News Opinon on January 5, 2017.

With a new year comes new promise.

For Medicine Hat in 2017, that promise includes encouraging work in the categories of something old and something new.

Renewed activity in the oilpatch, some major private sector projects and the connected construction dollars, should see the local economic landscape tip backwards toward level.

At the same time, old reliable table legs of the economy haven’t proved so reliable over the past half dozen years.

Quite frankly, southeast Alberta needs new ideas, new thinking, new investment and new industry.

What it doesn’t need is the same old someone-else-should, can’t-be-done, or why-bother attitude so pervasive in Alberta’s self-branded forgotten corner.

That could come in some measure from a renewable energy program led by the provincial government that everyone seems to hate until rebates and grants start rolling in, or megaprojects are announced.

It could happen in agriculture, though not much seems to be on the go beyond a lot of scuttlebutt about the great ideas hemp processing, medical marijuana or beef processing.

It could happen in higher education, though most Hatters laugh off the idea of seeking out university status for the Medicine Hat College.

It could happen in refining, though we seem stuck in limbo waiting for a single corporate board room to greenlight a local expansion. This is despite there being thousands of chemical companies operating in North America — surely one of them might be thinking about new production facilities.

It could happen in green energy.

Early this year, power-generating companies will place bids to supply up to 400 megawatts of power from planned green energy as the province plans to take coal offline and add renewable power.

Alberta-based Capital Power signalled its intention to put its project in Whitla into the mix. Others with interests in the region certainly will as well.

The auction results, which could lead to three major facilities coming online in Alberta by 2019, will be known later this year.

That’s likely not a single magic bullet ready to re-energize the Medicine Hat and region economy.

But nor does it have to be.

The City of Medicine Hat itself is getting deeper into the oil business with a new drilling program — part of a general return of the patch since global energy prices stabilized and grew last year.

A real curmudgeon will note that local activity likely won’t return to its former glory.

The fact is that oilpatch workers here have been travelling far afield to jobs at least for the last decade.

Poking holes for low value, low volume dry natural gas just won’t cut it in the shale gas era, and hasn’t for some time.

Many patch hands will gladly get back to work however.

Beyond exploring for oil at stronger prices — notably resulting in new drilling on the Suffield block — the amount of maintenance and facility work that was put on hold during the investment freeze is now coming up past due.

Investment too is slated in two possible hotels in the south end of town, plus the long-awaited redevelopment of the former Walmart location on Strachan Road.

In agriculture, producers are coming off a rough year, but that’s after three out of five involving high prices, record breaking crops or both.

Cattle prices are lagging from all-time highs of several years ago, making for some tough times for cattle ranchers.

The bovine TB quarantine is likely to continue for several months as federal officials complete testing and traceouts of a limited outbreak of the infectious disease this fall.

No, the tough times are not over, but it’s tough to see them getting much worse very soon.

There are pathways here to making things better.

Hatters can make a decision to get back to work.

(Collin Gallant is a News reporter. To comment on this and other editorials, go to http://www.medicinehatnews.com/opinions.)

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