Drumheller and District Chamber of Commerce members hosted a virtual conference with Minister of Jobs, Economy, and Innovation Doug Schweitzer on Wednesday, May 12.
Minister Schweitzer discussed Alberta’s recovery plan and economic diversification through growth and expansion of existing and new industries, as well as taking questions from participants.
“I love taking my family to Drumheller, you’ve got the Royal Tyrrell with the dinosaurs; there’s everything there,” Minister Schweitzer said during the Zoom meeting.
One industry which the ministry would like to see enhanced and grow in the province is film and television.
Oscar winning films have already been filmed in Drumheller and surrounding areas, including the villages of Delia and Rockyford. Minister Schweitzer notes Calgary will be a “hub” for film production, similar to Vancouver, B.C., due to its proximity to the mountains, the prairies, and the Canadian Badlands.
He adds film and television productions are a “big small business driver.” Film crews work with local businesses and hire local tradespeople for carpentry, painting, and electrician work needed on set.
Along with bolstering the local economy, there is also the opportunity to drive tourism to filming destinations.
With Ghostbusters: Afterlife scheduled for release in November of this year, Minister Schweitzer says, “If you’re from Alberta you know that’s Drumheller; people are going to want to go see that.”
He notes the United Kingdom has leveraged tourism to areas where big productions such as Harry Potter and Game of Thrones were filmed, and says there are plans to partner with Travel Alberta, and potentially Travel Drumheller, to help promote tourism to these locations.
Another industry potential is an emerging technology sector due to an expansion of broadband internet services to rural areas.
“If you wanted to be in finance, you had to be downtown Toronto on Bay Street,” Minister Schweitzer said. “Well, Bay Street has been closed for a year.”
He adds these traditionally “downtown” jobs can now be performed almost anywhere and there is a growing trend of people leaving the city
for a quieter, rural life. There is also opportunity for new technology companies, both local and international, to expand and invest in the province with employees able to work from wherever they choose to live.
Minister Schweitzer noted he understands the pressures many businesses have faced due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions imposed on businesses over the last year.
“Obviously we’ve asked a lot of small businesses across the province, and over the world,” he said.
The Small and Medium Enterprise Grant is available to help businesses financially through the pandemic. Although not all businesses qualify for this grant Minister Schweitzer says he encourages those which did not qualify, and were under public health order to close, to contact the Ministry of Jobs, Economy and Innovation to see which additional supports may be available to them.
Minister Schweitzer also took time following the discussion to answer some questions from participants.
Starland County Reeve Steve Wannstrom spoke on a growing issue faced by rural municipalities and unpaid property tax on oil and gas properties. This has put a tremendous financial strain on many small, rural municipalities across the province--not just Starland County.
As the oil and gas industry recovers following low oil prices due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Minister Schweitzer notes there are numerous policies and also multiple ministries involved, including Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Ministry of Energy. He promised to bring Reeve Wannstrom’s feedback to his colleagues in the appropriate ministries for “further resolution” and recommended any municipalities affected by unpaid property taxes seek legal advice.