A central Albertan town is experiencing a major economic boost from three major energy projects underway nearby.
Edson, Alta., around 200 kilometres 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 pipeline project from TC Energy and the $1.5 billion Cascade Energy Project power plant.
Mayor Kevin Zahara said the flurry of economic activity comes after several slow years following the oil market crash of 2015.
Edson has a population of around 8,400 people — the projects have brought 2,000 additional workers into the area, Zahara said.
“We’re really in the peak with most of the workers here in our community,” he said.
Zahara said companies would create work camps prior to the pandemic. Now workers are flooding into the town and the surrounding Yellowhead County.
“Our hotels are packed — we have zero per cent rental vacancy available,” he said.
Zahara said there are downsides to the temporary population explosion — its impact on traffic, crime, and the unavailability of housing that most affects people experiencing homelessness.
“But overall, it is a hugely beneficial thing for our community.”
Karen Spencer-Miller, president of the Edson and District Chamber of Commerce, said local businesses are also benefiting from more workers in town.
“If you walk into any local business or local restaurant in town, it’s always full.”
She said the business is especially welcome for the service industry, which has borne the brunt of pandemic closures and slowdowns.
Workers have also been contributing to the community through donations to the local food bank and other charity programs, Spencer-Miller said.
Companies have also provided Christmas bonuses to employees in the form of “Edson bucks” that can be spent at local chamber businesses.
If there’s a downside, Spencer-Miller said, it would be some of the difficulties with supply exacerbated by recent floods in B.C. and other pandemic disruptions.
“The happy negative would be a lot of our shelves and that are empty a lot quicker,” she said.
Spencer-Miller is also the owner of Century 21 Twin Realty. She said low interest rates during the pandemic spurred the real estate market but there has also been an uptake with investment for rentals and workers buying lower-priced properties.
“This month has been extremely busy for people that are needing housing and needing housing quickly.”
Henry Boxma, the owner of Re/Max Boxshaw Four Realty who has been in the business for decades, said housing sales are steady but rentals are unlike anything he’s ever seen.
He manages around 150 rental properties. All but one are currently occupied yet he still receives about 10 calls a day asking about vacancies.
Boxma said local families are also taking advantage by renting out rooms.
“And that’s extra income for that family. That’s positive because they needed it.”
Construction on the two pipelines is expected to wrap up in about a year but follow-on work like landscaping will provide local jobs, Zahara said.
Building the Cascade plant is projected to continue until 2023 and eventually employ 25 full-time workers.
“Twenty-five jobs may not seem like a lot, but those people are bringing families to our communities,” Zahara said.