This update is shared by Jerry Pratt, Economic Development Officer at Clearwater County.
I met with five business owners in the Nordegg area at the Nordegg Miner’s Café on Monday, October 18, to discuss staff housing issues. The following is a summary of the discussion.
Tourism has grown over the past 5 years in the Nordegg area. Businesses are seeing more demand for accommodation rentals, restaurant services, goods, and guided tours, and there has been an increase in the number of people living in the area which increased demand for services as well.
Businesses are trying to meet demand by hiring more staff, however there is almost no housing available for staff resulting in businesses limiting their hours and their services. This lack of staff housing is constraining the growth of existing businesses and will limit investment by potential investors/businesses.
While this issue is most intense during the summer, tourism activity has grown in the other seasons as well and these businesses are facing staffing limitations beyond just summer. Businesses are looking for staff who would live in Nordegg year-round and hopefully for years rather than just one season. The businesses said that they were able to get applicants this past year, but the lack of housing turned many potential employees away, leaving the businesses understaffed. Their concern can be expressed this way – “it doesn’t matter how much you offer for wages if there is literally nowhere to stay within a 30-minute drive.”
One of the largest issues these and other businesses face is that no individual business can solve this. These businesses cannot compete with the recreation/tourism cottage lot buyers for pricing, and current zoning may not even allow them to build what they need.
- Zoning – can areas of Nordegg be zoned for dense housing development to allow/encourage
investment in apartments or multi-room buildings that are for local business usage?
- Industrial – can the County encourage the creation of a camp in the Industrial area for logging/oil companies?
- Develop with the County a cooperative housing model like those used in Banff.
- The idea of housing above stores on Main Street is good, but the accommodations would likely
be used by the business owners and not available for additional staff.
Short-term solutions for the summer of 2022
- Is the County willing to rent any of its units out for local business use for 2 to 4 months?
- Would the County allow camping/trailers on their industrial lots for business staff during summer months?
- Is there any way to work with the province to allow staff to stay on a site for 2 to 3 months in a campground?
Each business owner is excited for the opportunity they see in Nordegg, however, they fear they may not be able to operate their businesses successfully and sustainably if these staffing issues continue.