Apr
28
2019
Volume
7-2

New Leadership For newly launched Wood Buffalo Economic Development Corporation

(2 votes)

Convener and connector - Kevin Weidlich aptly describes the Wood Buffalo Economic Development Corporation (WBEDC). The newly appointed President and CEO for WBEDC, Weidlich is excited to lead the group.

Launched last year, the WBEDC, which is located in the Jubilee Building, has a staff of five. It is a “wholly-owned entity of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, governed by an independent Board of Directors, and tasked with increasing the growth, innovation, prosperity and resilience of the economy of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.”

“We want to attract businesses to Fort McMurray and then connect them with the right opportunities for the benefit of the community. It’s all about convening and connecting groups,” notes Weidlich, 50, who has a military background, and a 30-year leadership experience.

His military career has seen him travel all over the world. As per his official bio, he has “served on four international operations: Cyprus (United Nations), twice in Bosnia (NATO), and most recently leading Canada’s military training and assistance team in Jordan.”

In addition, the private sector saw him involved with leading a successful international market entry strategy for an Alberta-based company in Mexico, and most recently heading the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation as Vice President of Marketing and Communications. Nevertheless, moving to Fort McMurray came with a litany of pleasant surprises for him.

“Being from Edmonton, I was familiar with Fort McMurray, and had visited for business a few times. But, I was quite impressed when I moved here. The amenities, and the community are amazing,” noted Weidlich, who has three boys, and has been married for 17 years. His family moves to Fort McMurray this summer once the school year ends.

His short-term goal for the WBEDC is to work with the newly appointed board to create strong foundations, and develop corporate policies as well as governance structure. In addition, he wants the group to be a business incubator and entrepreneurship centre for the growth of both big and small business.

“The fact that WBEDC was a Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB) department before, and now an organization means there’s work to be done. Right now the priority is working on strategic tasks like attracting retail investment, and revenue generation,” Weidlich explains.

That revenue primarily is provided by the RMWB; with federal and provincial grants as well as in the form of post-wildfires assistance from the Canadian Red Cross. Long-term he wants the WBEDC to become an integral part of the community – and to be viewed as the catalyst in making the community successful.

 

This community success is also made possible as the association provides support, and programing to the business community. This was front and centre last year with the launch of the Support to Small Business Program for small business recovery thanks to the abovementioned Canadian Red cross grant. The initiative offered a three-pronged approach:

  • The Business Resource Centre/Group Programming: offered free workshops and resources to local businesses and social profits.
  • Business Coaching Program: “Eligible recipients of the Canadian Red Cross Support to Small Business Program can qualify for one-on-one coaching and advice from a professional Certified Management Consultant (CMC).”
  • Keyano College Voucher Program: Which saw a $500 voucher to be used at the College towards non-credit or certificate courses by qualifying eligible recipients of the Canadian Red Cross Support to Small Business Program.

This collaboration with key community partners like Keyano College is important for the association.

“Keyano College and the WBEDC are important partners in several areas. As co-chairs of the Wood Buffalo Regional Innovation Network, Keyano and the WBEDC are working together to help support small business, start-ups, entrepreneurs, and to promote innovation in our community,” notes Keyano College President and CEO Trent Keough.

“The WBEDC reflects the commitment of RMWB leadership to the strengthening of the economic base of our communities. It will promote us to the world, offering greater awareness of the excellent amenities and cultural sophistication of our region. Keyano looks forward to engaging with WBEDC more into the future,” Keough continues.

Indeed, the group’s recent merger with Fort McMurray Tourism will offer greater awareness of Fort McMurray. Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo Mayor, Don Scott sees this as a welcome opportunity for the nascent organization.

“Regional economic development is a key priority for our Council and we look forward to the impact the new Wood Buffalo Economic Development Corporation will have on our region,” he notes.

“Economic development has many facets, from supporting existing and new local businesses, to securing new investment and events, to showcasing our communities and telling the story of our home. It’s no secret we want more people living in our region, growing their families here and helping build a better future for the region. It is also great to see the collaboration between the WBEDC and Fort McMurray Tourism; this approach can only benefit our residents,” Mayor Scott adds.

Telling this story is a priority for the WBEDC. Weidlich dubs it the Bowling Pin Strategy – to choose which cause has the most impact.

“We want new national and foreign investments in the region. We want everyone to know the RMWB, and for this we need to develop our brand. People here don’t feel the rest of Canada understands what we have to offer – how we impact provincial and federal economy.”

“We need a master story to project our region’s image. We will develop this by talking to residents on what makes Fort McMurray home and interesting for others,” Weidlich comments.

And, with Fort McMurray Tourism joining the ranks, WBEDC plans to develop sport tourism as well.

“We have amazing recreation facilities. We have the expertise to win bids, and host major Games. But let’s fill our facilities every weekend.”

“My real vision for Fort McMurray and Wood Buffalo is for everyone who lives here including our Indigenous communities to have a positive image of the region. We have a vibrant and thriving community, I want this recognised across Canada,” Weidlich adds.

Laser sharp leadership from an experienced leader, who is already at home in Fort McMurray. We look forward to the WBEDC’s growth and work.

 

To learn more about the WBEDC, visit choosewoodbuffalo.ca

 

Selected fast facts from WBEDC’s Commercial and Industrial Land Use Study Conducted by ParioPlan Inc. and Colliers International in June 2018:

  • The current supply of industrial land in RMWB is 999.81 gross hectares (2,470.63 acres), which includes approximately 221.11 hectares (546.24 acres) of shovel ready land that can accommodate new industrial development within 6 months.
  • Due to the wildfire, it is estimated that the real GDP of the RMWB experienced a 12% loss compared to the pre-wildfire baseline scenario.
  • There is a total of 2,703,108 square feet of retail development in Fort McMurray, of which 138,064 square feet are vacant.
  • Based on a full inventory analysis of retail developments in Fort McMurray conducted in the winter of 2017, the current retail vacancy in Fort McMurray is 5.1% which is considered low by industry norms.
  • Adding 530,297 square feet of net floor area would require approximately 18.47 hectares (45.64 acres) of undeveloped land. Comparing that to the currently available shovel ready commercial land supply of 125.10 hectares (309.15 acres), the RMWB will have a surplus of commercial land. A significant portion of this surplus land is available through major projects which are also serviced such as the Quarry Ridge Development, the Eagle Ridge Development, Parsons Creek Phase 1 and parts of the Saline Creek Area.
  • The RMWB has sufficient vacant office space as well as shovel ready lands, particularly in the City Centre, that can accommodate new office space. The RMWB does not require the allocation of any additional lands for office development until the vacancy rate drops to 10%.
  • The May 2016 Wildfire was one of the costliest disasters in Canadian history. The destruction or damage of an estimated 1,935 residential and 23 commercial and industrial structures, and a halt to economic activity in Fort McMurray.
  • The shutdown of activity in Fort McMurray and the surrounding oil sands facilities was a major hit to the local economy in the short term.
  • Due to the wildfire, it is estimated that the real GDP of the RMWB experienced a 12% loss compared to the pre-wildfire baseline scenario.
  • It is estimated by the Conference Board of Canada that $5.3 billion dollars will be reinvested into the Province, through insurance and government payments. According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, insurance claims are expected to total $3.6-billion, with $2.4-billion being for personal insurance such as home and automotive claims. The replacement of household goods lost in the fire is expected to add $600 million to household consumption, some of which will go towards local businesses.
  • The population is projected to increase from 76,580 in 2016 to 86,318 in 2030.
  • The employment is projected to decrease from 39,450 jobs in 2016 to 36,600 jobs in 2030.

 

Source: choosewoodbuffalo.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/CILUS_June18-OnlineVersion.pdf

KIRAN MALIK-KHAN

Kiran Malik-Khan is the Director of Stakeholder Relations for The United Way of Fort McMurray. She is a freelance journalist, a communications professional, and a poet. She loves sharing stories about unique people, events, and organizations. Kiran is the co-founder and volunteer public relations director for NorthWord magazine, Fort McMurray's first and only literary magazine. She is also the President/Co-founder of World Hijab Day Fort McMurray. A proud Pakistani-Canadian who grew up in New Jersey, she is a fierce advocate of Fort McMurray, multiculturalism, women's rights, and equality for all. Got a story nobody is telling? Send her ideas: DM and follow on Twitter @KiranMK0822.

Website: twitter.com/kiranmk0822

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