Fort McMurray, located in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, is the largest city in the municipality and is rich with possibilities for growth.
Though known as being an “oil town”, IRJ was able to touch base with the Chamber of Commerce for the city to learn why oil is not the only draw for Canadians.
Fort McMurray is located at the merging of four rivers and is a vibrant and dynamic city.
The city is quickly growing and its growth is a testament to a diverse business base that extends further than the resource sector, including activity in forestry, tourism and retail.
Entrepreneurs abound in the city and business growth is encouraged by the community and Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber’s motto is “quality of life through economic opportunities” and Jon Tupper, President of the Chamber, agrees that bolstering economic activity is the best way to continue the city’s path to success.
The Chamber is a leader in public policy advocacy on business issues and its mission is to “foster a strong, competitive and profitable economic environment that benefits not only business but all citizens.” The Chamber, says Tupper, actively engages government on all pertinent issues that affect Fort McMurray businesses, whether or not they be in oil and gas.
The Chamber is comprised of volunteer committees and affiliated associations, who all come together to discuss business issues that affect Chamber stakeholders.
Currently, the Chamber of Commerce represents 650 member businesses. The Chamber itself is a member of the Alberta Chamber of Commerce and “tries to be a voice for local businesses—regionally, municipally and nationally,” Tupper says.
The Chamber works diligently to stay in touch with its stakeholders through many avenues. The Chamber’s directors take an active approach, as Tupper says that it is “incumbent upon our directors (who are elected) to stay in touch with our members,” and the importance of communication at this level is not lost on anyone. “I myself try to talk business leaders every day, and we’ve even developed some new programs to help this along,” he continues.
The Regional Economic Development (RED) Link facilitates opportunities to enhance Wood Buffalo’s regional business sectors “through information, communications, promotions, research, networking and sales.” RED Link members are associations who report to individual volunteer boards including the Fort McMurray Chamber, the Fort McMurray Construction Association and the District Chamber of Commerce.
RED Link was created seven years ago and continually strives to promote a strong, diverse economy. RED Link is just one program or service businesses can utilize in developmental assistance.
The RED Link strives to ensure the long-term competitiveness of the region’s economy through three complementary strategies: business retention (working with existing businesses to enhance opportunities for growth development, and business development), helping entrepreneurs access resources to achieve successful business ventures, business formation (initiating or developing processes and tasks to attract businesses to the region), as well as “working to stimulate major growth industries that complement [a] strong, dynamic economy.” The RED link is not the only affiliate of the Chamber that champions business, but it is certainly one of the most successful.
“RED Link allows large organizations to post requests for expressions of interest, on large scale projects or otherwise. It is sent to our member businesses and provides a searchable database,” Tupper says.
The Chamber also hosts luncheons with guest speaker presentations because, as Tupper insists, “Business is more than dollars and cents—it’s about establishing relationships.” As such, the Chamber in recent years even started hosting a Christmas party for its members, as many of them are too small to have the means to support themselves.
He adds that ultimately, “Business is just a group of individuals working toward a common purpose, and industry is just a group of businesses working in a common sector.” Therefore, the Chamber is looking after not only businesses, but community. “Our mission statement (quality of life through economic opportunity) is what we want to see our businesses have.”
The Chamber is always seeking new business growth, as it recognizes that outside the oilsands Canadians and international businesses might not see the appeal. However, Tupper maintains that “growth potential is high in Fort McMurray and the risks are much lower than in many other economies.” The Chamber is looking to diversify the economy and see other sectors around tourism and retail grow. “The oilsands have been here for 100 years, and will be for decades, and are a major part of the economy. But we want to see Fort McMurray grow. We are already seeing other Canadians as well as those from outside the country, move to Fort McMurray to take part in the growth,” he adds. Essentially, although the oilsands are “certainly a national treasure,” it is important to see other areas of the economy grow.
Fort McMurray is a place of natural beauty, so tourism is one area that the Chamber would like to see thrive. There are historic travel and trade routes as well as sand dunes, trails and lots of fishing for those visitors that enjoy the outdoors. The Chamber is working to promote tourism but moreover, to promote the industry.
The Athabasca oilsands have become known to some as the “eighth wonder of the world” and have attracted thousands of visitors who have no affiliation with the oil sands industry. Visitors to Fort McMurray often also come to explore neighbouring communities that each have something to offer: Anzac, Conklin, Draper, Fort Chipewyan, Fort Fitzgerald, Fort MacKay, Gregoire Lake Estates, Janvier/Chard, Mariana Lakes and Saprae Creek Estates.
With a population of 64,441, it is clear that Fort McMurray is not just a temporary locale for those in the oil business to thrive. The Chamber is always working to promote a thriving economy and help support those interested in growing a business.
As the website so deftly indicates, Fort McMurray’s success is a result of many different industries and businesses working together: “No city or region can develop or flourish without a critical mass of individuals investing time, money and effort into building a future for themselves, their families and their communities.”