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Economic Development Lethbridge promoting Highway 3 agri-food corridor

Posted on 29 December 2023 by Ryan Dahlman

By Heather Cameron
Alberta Newspaper Group

Economic Development Lethbridge gave a presentation regarding the progress with the Canadian Food Corridor Partnership at the M.D. of Taber Council Meeting that was held on December 12.

Bryce Surina, Director of Community Services for the M.D. of Taber, introduced the team and explained to Council that the Canadian Premier Food Corridor (CPFC) is a partnership that is made up of a number of municipalities along the Highway 3 corridor, from Lethbridge County and the M.D. of Taber and other partnering municipalities.

Benjamin Young, Investment Attraction director for Economic Development Lethbridge, then took the floor to explain the history behind the initiative, saying that it started six years ago when a group of economic development professionals from across the region got together and watched a video from Calgary Economic Development sharing about how they’re the center of food production in western Canada.

“We wanted to work more collaboratively to tell our story here in the region a little better and to market and promote the section of Lethbridge to Taber along Highway 3, being the food cluster hub of Western Canada,” said Young.

Young says that the name Canada’s Premier Food Corridor came about through some brainstorming sessions and it’s been something their team has worked together on for about six years with the primary partners being the Town of Taber, the M.D. of Taber, Lethbridge County, the City of Lethbridge through Economic Development Lethbridge, and the Town of Coaldale. Right from the start, Young says, Community Futures, SouthGrow, and other regional partners have also provided a lot of support.

“As you may know, CPFC, the Highway 3 Corridor, it’s a natural economic corridor with all the businesses that are part of the agri-food supply chain already located here in southern Alberta,” said Young. “It really has a natural economic development opportunity to build upon these strengths, but it’s also been one of those initiatives that’s always been on the side of the desk of our economic development professionals across the region.”

Young says that without really any dedicated resources to CPFC, the group completed several things within six years: high level strategic planning, asset mapping, marketing, the creation of a website, they’ve attended various meetings together to share their story, and have also gotten a lot of brand recognition for CFPC. 

Young also shared that he had come to Council about six to eight months ago requesting $5,000 per year in support from the M.D. to leverage those funds to gain funding from Prairies Economic Development Canada and the province, and he was happy to report that his group was successful in the application to Prairies Economic Development Canada. Young thanked the M.D. for the funds they contributed, as their group was able to secure almost $700,000 from Prairies Economic Development Canada.

Young then shared that over the three-year project, the group has approximately a $1.4 million budget with $350,000 of that coming from municipal partners, approximately $100,000 a year coming from the City of Lethbridge, and then $5,000 a year from other partners, specifically the Town of Coaldale, the Town of Taber, the M.D. of Taber, and Lethbridge County. Young says that the group has also secured $100,000 in funding from the province through their NRED funding application.

Sandra Dufresne, Cluster Development Manager with Economic Development Lethbridge, then addressed Council and said that her work as the cluster development manager will be very externally focused, as it is all about promotion of the corridor and the opportunities that lie within.

“What’s happening now, what is expected to happen in the future, so a lot of my time has been spent doing a lot of research and really understanding the agri-food space really well,” said Dufresne. “So of course, investment attraction is all about looking for new opportunities.”

Dufresne stated that the group has a new interactive AI tool called Gazelle that helps identify companies and businesses working in the space that are prime for investment, so it can help them determine which companies are ready to expand through a ranking that Gazelle provides.  

“Something I’m spending a lot of time on is working with other key partners to get a sense of where each of them are at with their economic development activities and what their goals are for the next three years,” said Dufresne. “I’m also working with Invest Alberta and Invest in Canada and they’re already proving to be really valuable partners in terms of the opportunities that they’re bringing us.”

Just in the previous week, said Dufresne, the group was part of a presentation with Invest in Canada, which is the economic development arm for the federal government. Dufresne says all of them, along with Edmonton Global, which is a group of 14 municipalities in the capital region, and Calgary Economic Development, presented to trade commissioners in Europe, Asia, and on both coasts of the United States. 

Dufresne made sure to emphasize that the group will also meet with key government stakeholders regularly throughout the three-year commitment, as they want them to recognize the value this is bringing to the province. Other events that the group attended to share about Canada’s Premier Food Corridor and the opportunity it holds included the Thrive SVG Global Impact Summit in California, the Ag Connections Conference in Medicine Hat, Canada’s National Conference in Calgary, and in 2024, they plan to potentially attend a conference with Protein Industries Canada that will be held next April in Toronto.

Paloma Navarro, Industry Engagement Coordinator at Economic Development Lethbridge, introduced herself as originally being from Chile and having worked with Economic Development Lethbridge for the last three years in different programs for entrepreneurs and innovation as well as working as the lead of the self-employment program at Momentum. Her role with the CFPC, Navarro said, is Industry Engagement Coordinator and that involves working with the businesses that already exist within the corridor and trying to help them stay while also helping them find different strategies that will advance their growth. 

“Building the workforce today is critical, as many businesses are struggling,” said Navarro. “My role will be focused in helping the businesses that exist within the corridor to connect with different government agencies, programs, grants, or different funding opportunities or accelerators. Sometimes it happens that many businesses don’t have access to all those services because they are not located in urban areas, so part of our role will be advocate.”

Navarro said that her role will involve trying to bridge the gaps that different communities have, as not all of the communities have the same reality, so the group really want to target and work very closely with businesses, with Council, and with others to know what is going on and how to engineer growth. 

“We really want to be a road map for businesses to connect with the resources available and also advocate for whatever we identify is needed,” said Navarro.

Navarro also showed Council a slide containing the Premier Food Corridor Asset Map.

“So the idea is to have all the information that we need to connect with these businesses and also facilitate the exchange of resources,” said Navarro. “We really, really want to work with everyone so information and the different grants and funding that are available are known and we can take advantage of those to grow and thrive.”

Navarro explained that in the early stages of the initiative, the group met with every municipal partner and economic development partner from the corridor to learn about what are the needs, wants, and expectations so they could understand the needs, major challenges, and opportunities and also develop a strategy and accomplish goals. Since resources often change, Navarro said, it is always important that they were up to date on everything so they could pass the information along to their businesses.

Navarro also mentioned participating in several events to learn what’s happening and what resources are needed to excel. Those events, Navarro said, included a harvest and factory tour from the Alberta Sugar Beet Growers, the Alberta Potato Conference and Trade Show in Calgary, and the Agri-Food Expo in Red Deer. This work, Navarro said, will be a constant effort that will involve the updating of the asset map and the creation of a more interactive way for everyone to be able to go and identify what they are looking for. 

Following the presentation, Council inquired about what reasons companies would have for not moving their operations to the area. Young responded by stating that in the business of food, the corridor is competing with jurisdictions across North America, and across the world for the investments. 

“When there’s certain states in America or other federal governments across the world that offer blank cheques to companies to set up shop whether it’s a strategic fit or not, it’s sometimes hard to compete with that,” said Young. “We have our certain advantages here in this region with the irrigation strength we have and the crops that are growing here. In Alberta, we have low corporate tax rates. The business-friendly environment is an incentive itself. Combined with the strengths of the crops and product we grow here, it makes a lot of sense for businesses in the food sector to locate here. Just really telling that story in a different way when governments across the world are handing out $50 million checks, we have to tell our story a little differently, so that’s been a bit of a challenge, but I think we’re getting better at telling that story.”

Council then inquired as to what strategies the M.D. could take in helping to tell that story.

Young responded by telling Council they could be an active partner in spreading the message through the M.D. via their social media channels or connections, and also being engaged when the group reaches out to the M.D. with inquiries or collaboration opportunities.  

A motion was made to accept Economic Development Lethbridge’s presentation as information and carried.

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