The four military bases in Alberta collectively generate over $10 million in local procurement and services annually, and more opportunities could be on the way.
“The bases definitely contribute to the growth of our communities, by doing everything from buying bottled water to building new facilities and upgrading infrastructure,” says Carley Herbert, economic development officer for the Town of Wainwright, which is home to Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Wainwright.
Wainwright is a town approximately 200 kilometres east of Edmonton and it’s not the only community in the province benefiting from being home to a CFB. Cold Lake, a city in northeast Alberta that’s situated less than 20 kilometres from the Saskatchewan border, is home to CFB Cold Lake. In the southeast corner of the province on the outskirts of Medicine Hat sits CFB Suffield, and CFB Edmonton makes its home in Sturgeon County, which is the municipal district adjacent to the northern city limits of Alberta’s capital city.
Playing host to these CFBs has been a huge driver of the local economies – regions that combine to include more than 1.1 million people – and each region could be in line for greater investment.
“That’s because the federal government requires any aerospace or defence-related company working with the Canadian military – such as Lockheed Martin or L3 Mas, to name a couple – to engage the local private sector business community,” says Bob Bezpalko, executive director of the Northeast Alberta Information HUB (Alberta HUB), a regional economic alliance made up of 38 communities, including Cold Lake.
Development of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – commonly known as drones – is an area primed for growth. It’s estimated that 30 percent of the UAV companies in Canada have their headquarters in Alberta. In addition to the actual UAVs, related software and specialized services are expected to dominate military spending growth over the next decade.
UAVs are only a part of Canada’s aerospace and defence profile that will become increasingly evident in Alberta’s four CFB bases. Bezpalko notes that robotics, defence electronics, geomatics and scientific research, plus manufacturing, maintenance, and repair are all part of the profile too – and are areas that could tap into regional talent pools.
“While a lot of opportunities in the high-tech sector, research, robotics realm exist for Alberta’s urban areas, the resource base and investment opportunities in outlying areas are considerable too,” says Bezpalko. “We’re uniquely positioned to take advantage of them, and to facilitate and expand economic diversification in the region.”