Labour shortages worry Fort McMurray economic leaders, but hopeful for 2024

Fort McMurray’s economic leaders hope a proposed carbon capture project will trigger a boom and 2024 will have economic incentives from governments.

Article content

The leaders of Fort McMurray’s two main economic groups hope a proposed carbon capture and storage project will trigger another boom if its approved. But for now, they worry about the region’s ability to keep residents and attract workers.

Advertisement 2

Article content

Kevin Weidlich, president and CEO of Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo Economic Development and Tourism (FMWBEDT), and Dianna de Sousa, president of the Fort McMurray Chamber of Commerce, said in separate interviews that filling labour shortages in Fort McMurray must be prioritized by local political and business leaders.

Article content

“We’re seeing people moving out from the community,” said de Sousa. “With some of the downsizing and changes at Suncor, a number of businesses are a little bit more reserved in their spending.”

Both leaders hope the Pathways project will spur development, assuming it is approved. The plan is to collect carbon from more than 20 oilsands facilities and transport it via pipeline to be stored underground in geological formations near Cold Lake. Most jobs would be associated with capturing emissions at nearby oilsands facilities.

Advertisement 3

Article content

Diversifying Fort McMurray’s economy is a challenge as every province tackles labour shortages and are desperately recruiting workers. Last September, the premier of Newfoundland and Labrador hosted a job fair in Fort McMurray. Both Weidlich and de Sousa say there are still cards that local politicians can play to win people over to Fort McMurray.

de Sousa says housing is affordable compared to the rest of Canada. She also said the municipality and council should offer incentives to promote economic growth and lure people to the region. Council should also lobby other levels of government for support on these projects. Mayor Sandy Bowman has promised population and business incentives will be announced this year.

Advertisement 4

Article content

Fort McMurray is also part of the Rural Renewal Stream, a provincial program that helps recruit foreign nationals to live, work and settle in rural communities. Keyano College is about to have more students than its ever had this year.

Upcoming economic reports will give a more detailed look at what industries are needed and will soon be needed in Fort McMurray. FMWBEDT is starting an “industrial attraction program” this year.

“We will, I believe, see another boom. We just need to do all the right things in terms of expertise in terms of what industries how we attract them to set up here for the longer term,” said de Sousa. “I’m hoping to have a solid strategy and plan when it comes to our workforce.”

Weidlich called 2023 “a transition year” following the economic turmoil of the COVID-19 pandemic. He hopes interest rates in 2024 will start dropping, setting up 2025 for a year of growth. He believes Fort McMurray can absorb up to 40,000 newcomers without building more infrastructure. Empty lots in places like Parsons Creek and Saline Creek are already serviced for the construction of homes.

Advertisement 5

Article content

“That’s actually really good because it also means that it’ll continue to be a balanced market and there won’t be a shortage of supply. We won’t see an affordable ability crisis. We all already went through our correction almost 10 years ago,” said Weidlich.

“The infrastructure pressures, the expansions of the oilsands, the surge of all those workers coming here caused growth that was unsustainable. Now we have infrastructure in place that can absorb new activity.”

Get the news and events of Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo in your inbox every Friday morning by signing up for our newsletter.

[email protected]

Article content