When Business in Focus profiled Prince Albert, Saskatchewan in June 2015, the city was in the midst of redeveloping its Official Community Plan. Since then, Prince Albert has begun implementing the new plan—as well as several other notable initiatives.
Director of Planning and Development Services, John J. Guenther, RPP, MCIP, PhD, sat down with us this month to share the details on Prince Albert’s recent achievements.
Official Community Plan
Prince Albert’s Official Community Plan is a comprehensive policy framework encompassing the goals, policies and objectives that direct the growth and development of the city. Designed to reflect the vision of the community’s residents, the plan’s primary purpose is to guide the physical development of the city. The community-wide initiative also considers social, economic, and environmental factors.
The Official Community Plan’s overarching purpose is to build a sustainable community where development takes place in an orderly, efficient, and logical fashion and influences the health of the community in every facet of urban planning. “It is a holistic document that has all the elements in it: transportation; urban infrastructure; sewer, water, and storm water; environment; public safety; housing,” Dr. Guenther details. “It is really taking a look at the [city’s] long range, strategic objectives.”
The plan paves the way for new business development while simultaneously embracing existing enterprises. “[We are] really supporting the businesses that are already here. But we also want to profile and attract more business.” The city is a particularly good fit for smaller, entrepreneurial outfits looking to take advantage of a sizable market filled with diverse opportunities.
“We have a large market area, about 195,000 people, that stretches into the North Country,” Dr. Guenther shares. This region is dotted with scenic lakes ideal for fishing, creating lots of options for outdoor recreation businesses. “A lot of Americans come up here to fish; the fishing here is amazing. There are more lakes here than there are in most countries.”
The city’s central location also makes it a strong contender for warehousing and trucking operations. In addition, the location is rich in natural resources, creating big opportunities for the mining and logging industries. Education is another sector with plenty of opportunities. Prince Albert is located within the region’s educational hub and locals enjoy access to Saskatchewan Polytechnic programs, off-campus learning from the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Regina, as well as numerous vocational training opportunities within the community; including First Nations University and Gabriel Dumont Institute (Métis).
Prince Albert’s Official Community Plan takes all of these sectors into account and encourages economic diversity. “In planning, we try to keep as many balls in the air as possible so we can connect those as they start moving ahead,” Dr. Guenther explains. “We have a number of different initiatives that are out there. We try to take up the long range planning and the current permits (subdivision, rezoning and development permits) and make sure we are connecting those.”
Preserving Prince Albert’s strengths
The Cree name for Prince Albert is Kistahpinanihk, which refers to “the meeting place” and demonstrates the community’s strong multicultural history. Prince Albert celebrates its Indigenous roots and has become one of the first northern communities in Saskatchewan to adopt an innovative process known as cultural planning.
The process promotes inclusive community engagement that helps local leaders and residents identify cultural resources and strategize as to how those resources can help the community achieve its goals. “Cultural planning is a way of looking at all aspects of a community’s cultural life as community assets,” the City of Prince Albert website explains. “Municipal Cultural Planning notably is a municipal government-led process approved by Council, for identifying and leveraging a community’s cultural resources, strengthening the management of these resources and integrating them across all facets of municipal government planning and decision-making.”
Prince Albert is fortunate enough to have a vibrant downtown, and the community is working to make it even better. “We have the North Saskatchewan River here and our riverfront needs some attention,” Dr. Guenther details. In addition, the city is planning to add some quality of life improvements while carrying out necessary infrastructure repairs. “[We are] taking a look at how we can better develop this area. We have infrastructure below the ground that is over 100 years old. At some point we are going to have to replace that so, as we start doing that, we are thinking about how we [can improve] the street.” Downtown streets already boast trees and sidewalks, but the city would like to improve walkability and create bike lanes that would connect to the city’s trail system. The business sector and government will work together to implement the improvements.
Supporting local business
The City of Prince Albert is committed to its business community. In an effort to cut red tape, the city joined forces with the towns of Shellbrook, Rosthern and Duck Lake to create an inter-municipal business license (IMBL) agreement. The two-year pilot project will let licensed businesses apply for an inter-municipal license that allows them to operate legally in any of the participating communities. “Council has been forward-looking on this,” Dr. Guenther remarks. “They have thought about how we can streamline relevant activities to make it easier and [allow businesses to] just get one business license and operate in four or five jurisdictions. It is an initiative that helps people cut through some red tape.”
The Succession Matching Community Project is an innovative program that helps businesses thrive from one generation to another. “You have a lot of entrepreneurs that are aging and, as they are aging, they are going to be passing those businesses off at some point. The Succession Matching program is really trying to make sure that there is not a break in continuity between businesses.”
To maintain continuity, business owners must pass knowledge on to the next owner. For example, a family-owned grocery store or restaurant understands the ins and outs of its neighbourhood and how to be successful there. “They do very well there because the operator knows what they are doing and because the businesses are well established,” Dr. Guenther points out. “They know what their market conditions are. As that person starts to age they want to retire, so there is a point where you want to capitalize on all of that institutional knowledge that is there and not lose that continuity.”
Prince Albert’s 2016 Economic Development Forum gave local business leaders a chance to learn about new opportunities and economic developments throughout the region. The forum featured speakers from a variety of businesses and organizations, including the Clarence Campeau Development Fund, Prince Albert & District Community Futures, Square One, SuccessionMatching.com and TownFolio. “We had a good cross section of people attend,” Dr. Guenther recalls.
The Forum provided opportunities for potential start-ups as well as established companies. “SquareOne was there to talk about entrepreneurial programs and how they can get off the ground. So if somebody had a development idea, they could bring it to this group that they work with in Saskatoon to help them get a business plan drafted and a look at what their cost and revenue picture could look like over time.”
Prince Albert will continue to roll out programs and plans to strengthen the community and its businesses. “I think that within two years we should have a fairly solid master plan for the downtown and we should start to implement it,” Dr. Guenther predicts. “We will also be working with our economic groups and going out in various areas and trying to entice businesses here in a much more focused way.”
Armed with a new Official Community Plan, cultural planning program, and pro-business initiatives, the community should not have trouble attracting new businesses—or residents—to the vibrant city.