Sunday, October 23

Southern Alberta Economy should be North-central Montana Model

Today's Tribune ran a series of articles comparing the economy in Chester, MT with that of Taber, Alberta. I think the comparison is a valid exercise, as the ecomomic success story in Southern Alberta should serve as a model for the North-central Montana ecomomy.

My mother is a Canadian, from Calgary. For my entire life, I have regularly traveled to Calgary to visit family. I have always been in awe of the ability of small towns like Taber and Nanton to grow and prosper, as their geography is so similar to Montana's Hi-Line.

More than Taber and Nanton, the city of Lethbridge is a model for Great Falls. This city prospers while we are not. Lethbridge and Great Falls are very similar; twenty years ago we were still the same size and our ecomomies were based on the same things.

Southern Alberta is not based oil, as are ecomomic powerhouses like Calgary and Edmonton. Southern Alberta's success can be attributed entirely to Agriculture and the Ag processing plants that have sprouted up in the surrounding small towns.

Why do Taber, Nanton and Lethbridge prosper while Chester, Havre and Great Falls wither? The Tribune and the Chester activists have put their finger on the exact issue--irrigation districts.

Thirty to forty years ago, the Alberta government invested in its infrastructure to create a series of irrigation districts. The resulting availability of water transformed dryland wheat fields into lush vegetable gardens. Most of the resulting produce is exported out of the province, much out of the country (to the US). The investment by the government of Alberta paid itself off many times over.

It can't remember the last time that I agreed with the Tribune. However, today I do. Modeling ourselves after the successes in Southern Alberta is a goal for which we should all strive.

UPDATE: The two articles from the Trib can be found here and here.

1 comment:

Also a Canadian Transplant said...

Actually, I think you still only have part of the story.
Oil does play a big part in that the tax revenues they produce help to take the burden off the farmers.
I'm not saying irrigation is not a factor, it is (and that comes from a descendant of the pioneers that dug the canals in Southern Alberta).