By Justin Seward
Southern Alberta Newspapers
Alberta’s Ministry of Transportation and Economic Corridors Devin Dreeshen hosted an event in the city recently at Economic Development Lethbridge to highlight investments in southern Alberta for the transportation and economic corridors budget in 2023.
Dreeshen was joined by MLAs Nathan Neudorf, Grant Hunter and Economic Development Lethbridge CEO Trevor Lewington.
Dreeshen shared some highlights of Budget 2023.
Dreeshen said it actually provides $8 billion in capital investment just on transportation and economic corridors alone.
“So those are the three-year capital plans,” said Dreeshen.
“So the $8 billion will roll out over those three years and specifically here in southern Alberta, there’s $503 million going to 70 different projects across the south. And those are high priority projects that have been identified by local MLAs, by counties, by municipalities that have said that these are critical infrastructure, that not just through traffic counts but also through the economic development or the economic activity that flows through those regions.”
On top of the $503 million, there is $211 million for municipal wastewater programming.
“So that’s a grant program,” said Dreeshen.
“So that’s demand driven and that’s (a) $100 million increase from the previous budget.”
Dreeshen said there’s no specific projects yet because they have to be applied for.
When Dreeshen was the Agriculture and Forestry Minister he worked with southern Alberta MLAs to see through an $815 million investment into irrigation in southern Alberta.
“And there has been tremendous work that has happen since,” said Dreeshen.
“Whether it’s converting open air canals into pipelines or expanding new reservoirs, building new reservoirs. When it’s all completed, there will be 200,000 additional acres of irrigated land in southern Alberta. And the huge multiplier effect for value added agriculture in the south is just tremendous.”
Premier Danielle Smith has tasked Hunter to head up the Agri Food Processing Corridor between Medicine Hat and Lethbridge.
“So this is an ambitious project that will take years to fully implement but will have decades of economic benefits for the area,” said Hunter.
“The corridor will stretch from Lethbridge to Medicine Hat along the Highway 3 corridor. The scope of the project will transform this area to a super cluster of agri-food processors. When people think of potatoes, they usually think of Idaho. We’re putting Idaho on notice that as of today, that will no longer be the case.”
Hunter highlighted that this spring there will be shovels in the ground for the twinning of Highway 3 between Taber and Burdett and later in 2023 the Chin reservoir expansion project will break ground.
The Chin reservoir expansion will amount to about a 60,000 acre irrigated expansion.
“Now just to put that into perspective, when I’ve talked to other agri-food processing , multinational agri-food processing companies and I tell them about this 206,000 irrigated acres that’s been announced, and the different projects and stuff that we’re doing, they ask me usually two or three times Are you sure that’s what you’re doing?,” said Hunter.
“Because in other jurisdictions throughout the world, Idaho for example, this year they’re actually decreasing the irrigated land that they’re going to be providing. Washington’s flat on their back, California’s flat on their back, they are not adding anymore of the agriculture irrigated land. So when these agri-food processing companies that are always looking for this expansion find out that we’ve done this or that we’re doing this, they really get excited.”
Lewington thought recent announcements and investments are working.
“Growth and export values was an economic highlight for our region last year,” said Lewington.
“The value of exports from the Lethbridge area totalled $1.76 billion in 2021, 2021 is also the last amount of numbers we have that are accurate for that. But that was up 30 per cent from 2020 and up 43 per cent from 2019. So at a time during the pandemic, when other parts of the province were struggling with growing exports, the south was growing them in a big way. Manufacturing exports, which also includes food was actually 70 per cent of that number. So the vast majority of the exports from this region are not commodities, they’re actually finished materials.”
Lewington said we’re all about the value-added processing of food and traditional manufacturing.