Kent Rupert

This year started out with such headlines as: Housing sales slide; More job layoffs and What does $40 oil mean? If you ask anyone who has lived in Alberta for several years, you’ll likely hear: “We’ve been here before and will get through it.” There’s a general optimism that oil prices will come back. It is just a matter of when.

What does this mean for Airdrie? For those families affected by the drop in oil prices through layoffs, cutbacks or wage reductions, it’s obviously a very challenging time. Our hearts go out to you. As with many Albertans – and in looking at recent history in Airdrie – we remain optimistic.

If we look back to the economic slump in 2008-09, Airdrie’s population actually increased 11 per cent. While it’s difficult to prove exactly why this growth occurred, we can speculate that Calgarians were selling their houses and moving out to the surrounding communities for better value.

That wasn’t the only positive indicator in 2009. We also saw a steady flow of industrial and commercial projects come into Airdrie, and the number of licensed businesses continued to increase. In 2011, we asked companies through our Business Satisfaction Survey about that economic downturn: 64 per cent said that it had a negative impact on their business. However – and perhaps most importantly – they also reported much optimism: 68 per cent expected workload to grow or expand and the majority had plans to hire staff.

In short, it seemed that before a significant impact hit Airdrie in 2008-09, the economy was moving ahead, jobs were coming back and optimism was high.

What about this time around? It’s difficult to speculate and hindsight is always 20-20. What I can tell you is that in the first quarter of 2015, Airdrie saw the same number of new home starts as we did in 2014. We’ve seen new retail businesses open, new industrial projects get underway and local expansions announced (such as the Costco Distribution Centre’s $12-million project). With that said, we’ve also heard developers and builders project that we could see a slowdown in the third and fourth quarters if oil prices don’t rebound. Time will tell, and so will the results of our 2015 Business Satisfaction Survey, which will show what businesses feel about the current economy.

Todd Hirsch, senior economist with ATB Financial, predicts that oil prices will rebound to $65-$70 by the end of this year and that the real GDP will be close to two per cent (2014 was 3.8 per cent). Hirsch also warns that we shouldn’t panic. While oil is a major player in the Alberta economy, other industries are seeing an increase, such as meat-product exports, and there is growth in the aerospace, agriculture and chemicals sectors.

Airdrie was built based on pioneers coming west to take risks in hopes of great rewards. While we have seen many highs and lows over the years, one thing remains constant: we always stick together and find new and innovative ways to adapt and move forward. I believe this is what got us through the last downturn and it will get us through this one as well.

Airdrie is a young, innovative and entrepreneurial community. As with the early, enterprising pioneers, we won’t panic; we will work through the risky times together and reap the eventual rewards as an entire community.

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