Workers flock to central Alberta city as 3 energy construction projects underway in area


A city in central Alberta is enjoying a major economic boost thanks to three major energy projects underway nearby.

Edson, Alberta, about 200 kilometers west of Edmonton, sits along the Yellowhead Highway and has long been a resource-driven town.

Currently under construction nearby is part of the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion, another TC Energy pipeline project and the $ 1.5 billion Cascade Energy Project power plant.

Mayor Kevin Zahara said the surge in economic activity came after several years of slowing down after the 2015 oil crash.

Edson has a population of around 8,400 – the projects have brought 2,000 more workers to the area, Zahara said.

“We’re really at the top with most of the workers here in our community,” he said.

Zahara said companies will set up labor camps before the pandemic. Now workers are flocking to the city and surrounding Yellowhead County.

“Our hotels are packed – we don’t have any vacancy rates available,” he said.

Zahara said there are downsides to the temporary population explosion – its impact on traffic, crime and unavailability of housing that affects homeless people the most.

“But overall, this is an extremely beneficial thing for our community.”

Local businesses

Karen Spencer-Miller, president of the Edson & District Chamber of Commerce, said local businesses also benefit from more workers in the city.

“If you walk into a local business or a local restaurant in town, it’s always full.”

She said the company is particularly welcome for the service sector, which has suffered the brunt of pandemic shutdowns and slowdowns.

The workers also contributed to the community through donations to the local food bank and other charitable programs, said Spencer-Miller.

The Town of Edson, Alta. sees a flurry of economic activity as workers at nearby energy projects connect to the community. (Kory Lynn Siegers / CBC)

The companies also provided Christmas bonuses to employees in the form of “Edson dollars” which can be spent at local chamber businesses.

If there is one downside, Spencer-Miller said, it would be some of the supply difficulties exacerbated by recent B.C. flooding and other pandemic disruptions.

“The happy negative would be if a lot of our shelves are emptying much faster,” she said.

Real estate

Spencer-Miller also owns Century 21 Twin Realty. She said low interest rates during the pandemic have boosted the real estate market, but there has also been an increase in investment for rentals and workers buying properties at low prices.

“It has been an extremely busy month for people in need of housing and in need of housing quickly.”

Henry Boxma, the owner of Re / Max Boxshaw Four Realty who has been in the business for decades, said home sales are flat but rentals are unlike anything he’s ever seen.

It manages around 150 rental properties. All but one are currently busy, but he still receives about 10 calls a day asking for vacancies.

Boxma said local families are also benefiting by renting rooms.

“And that’s extra income for this family. It’s positive because they needed it.”

Construction on both pipelines is expected to be completed in about a year, but follow-up work such as landscaping will create local jobs, Zahara said.

Construction of the Cascade plant is expected to continue until 2023 and potentially employ 25 full-time workers.

“Twenty-five jobs may not seem like a lot, but these people bring families to our communities,” Zahara said.

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