MEDICINE HAT, AB -- As of Monday, Lethbridge’s population officially surpassed 100,000 people, allowing the city to edge out Red Deer as the third largest city in Alberta.
“We’re just showing consistent growth, our businesses, our largely agricultural based processors,” says Lethbridge Mayor Chris Spearman. “That’s very stable and there has been some reinvestment and some new investment in the last two years.”
Lethbridge appears to have an edge over Medicine Hat, largely due to the University of Lethbridge, with roughly 20 per cent of graduates staying in the city.
“The university and the college attract young people here,” says Spearman. “As our city grows there’s more opportunities for young people who graduate college and the university.”
Economic growth is also booming. Richardson's Oilseed recently expanded their facilities, and Cavendish Farms invested 400 million into their potato growing facilities.
“We are a regional hub for government services so with the university,” says Spearman. “Lots of Alberta health services access in the city, that provides a lot of stability as well.”
Lethbridge sees an annual growth rate of between 1.5 and two per cent, while Medicine Hat’s steadily at one percent.
According to Lethbridge’s 2019 census, it’s at 101,482, while Medicine Hat is at 63,260 according to the most recent 2016 Census.
Lethbridge performs a census annually, because when a population grows, so does grants.
Mayor Ted Clugston says the city doesn’t want to take the risk of having theirs grants cut.
“We will do another census, we only do a census if we think we’ve had growth because all of our grant funding is based on a per capita basis so we wouldn’t want to do a census and have that grant funding go down.”
According to Clugston, Medicine Hat is trying to expand its reach.
“We’re a bit of a secret and we’ve tried to get the word out, I think that word has been getting out a lot with all the international attention on Medicine Hat for a variety of things,” says Clugston. “Homelessness, Aurora, owning our own utilities, those kinds of things are getting the word out.”
However, Clugston says the city has a history of fighting growth.
“There was a time in the history of Medicine Hat where growth was not encouraged,” says Clugston. “We’re going way way back like 30-40 years ago where there was this kind of status quo attitude that Medicine Hat was nice around 30-40 thousand people and we should just stay that way where growth wasn’t encouraged, that is not the case now, we’re trying to encourage growth.”
Medicine Hat has seen major economic growth in 2018 and 2019, such as Aurora, Folium and Hut 8 generating more than 1,000 jobs.
However, Clugston says growing too rapidly could also backfire.
“We’ve actually been stepping back here in Medicine Hat and saying ‘wait a second, how big do we want to be?’ because a lot of things that we love about Medicine Hat are the easier commute times, the relative safety of the community so do we want to be 100,000? well maybe someday we do,” he says.
However, both Medicine Hat and Lethbridge agree the growth is an advantage for Southeastern Alberta.
“We have to try to offset the influence of Calgary and Edmonton dominating the provincial agenda and we have to advocate together for our cities,” says Spearman.
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