Beware of 'supercycle' threat: Urban development key to economic stability

By Andrea Hill, The StarPhoenix, April 9, 2014 - Saskatchewan's largest cities and their neighbouring communities need to work together and ramp up their appeal if the province is to remain sustainable once the commodity supercycle begins its decline, warns a new report released Wednesday.

There's no way of knowing when prices or demand for resources such as oil, gas and agricultural products will fall, but it's important that city leaders "adopt a sense of urgency to get on with the task of building a vision of more vibrant , more competitive and more appealing cities , " states the report from the Institute of Certified Management Consultants of Saskatchewan.

"The sooner Saskatchewan's largest cities get on with the task at hand, the less likely it will be that Saskatchewan will suffer the side effects of a downturn in global demand for commodities when it inevitably comes," the report reads.

It notes that Saskatchewan is currently at the mercy of the international market for natural resources and that the province needs to attract more value-added industries that can process those resources so Saskatchewan can continue to thrive in a "postcommodity economy."

Processing needs to occur in large urban centres but businesses will only set up camp around Saskatoon or Regina if the cities are viewed as desirable places for workers and their families to live. This means cities need a range of cultural activities, sporting facilities and personal and professional services.

"Access to these amenities is critical in attracting and retaining highly skilled labour professionals and their families to a community," states the study which stresses that Saskatoon and Regina - which now account for 43 per cent of the province's economic output - have a vitally important role to play in ensuring Saskatchewan's future sustainability.

Certified Management Consultants notes that cities with populations of at least 500,000 operate as "self-sustaining economic engines" and that Saskatchewan is the only non-Atlantic province to lack a city of this size.

In 2011 - the most recent census numbers available - Saskatoon had a population of 222,000 while Regina clocked in at 193,000.

The population of both cities have been increasing steadily over the last decade as prices of oil and potash climbed.

But despite this population growth, it will take time for both cities to more than double their populations.

The report therefore stresses the importance of cities partnering with neighbouring towns and rural municipalities to invest in technology, improve cultural and recreational amenities and develop plans such as affordable housing policies that will make urban centres more attractive to workers and their families.

"With the potential risk of the commodity supercycle no longer being present in our community - if that's the case - now's the time to act and ensure that we're prepared for that future," said Richmond Graham, president of the Institute of Certified Management Consultants of Saskatchewan. "This discussion on sustaining our prosperity is a discussion we really need to have while things are still very good in our cities, towns and across all of Saskatchewan."

Graham and others involved in the report are presenting their findings to Saskatchewan chambers of commerce Wednesday.

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