City of Swift Current approves three-year Strategic Plan with focus on population growth
Swift Current City Council gave unanimous approval to a three-year Strategic Plan as the start of a longer term strategy which is aiming to grow Swift Current's population to 25,000 by 2025.
The document builds on some of the themes introduced in the former three-year Strategic Plan which expired at the end of 2013, with the new plan envisioning growth by establishing the policies and priorities to grow the community.
"We decided that as a Council we want to set a high bar. Not only for the remainder of this term but for Council's in the future, that we're a community that's very serious about growing our population. Because obviously with that comes greater opportunities in employment and amenities and quality of life," Mayor Jerrod Schafer said following the approval of the new Strategic Plan. "We want the world to know that we're open for business, that we want to attract business, and that we offer a high quality of life for all demographics."
The 18 page plan covers a series of strategic directions the City is looking to follow from 2014 to 2016, and City of Swift Current Chief Administrative Officer Susan Motkaluk feels by having a clear vision for how to proceed with a growth focussed agenda it provides a clear direction for administration.
"It was a lot of discussion internally with the administrative team. Is this achievable? Is this a dream? Is this something that we can do? And of course very lengthy discussions with City Council as well. We really want to reach for that growth and we want to reach high. So the concept of a goal and a vision of 25,000 we certainly feel like it's achievable but we also know it's going to be tough to get there," Motkaluk said.
"So this plan in particular lays out that collaboration. Reaching out to our citizens and stakeholders, but really reaching beyond our boundaries and welcoming the world and saying 'we are open for business'."
As a planning document, the Strategic Plan outlines priority focused initiatives which includes the areas of managing city services; planning, developing and growing the city; reaching out to city residents with improved communications; plus designing and launching a message to attract growth and development.
"The bottom line is that if we continue to make our city safer and greener, more culturally diverse for current residents, we will all enjoy an exceptional quality of life. We will be well positioned to compete for the new residential growth going forward," she said.
Motkaluk felt the top initiative in the plan is the key focus areas in their planning, developing and growing initiatives. In the area of developing, the plan highlights key areas of focus including a tourism initiative, an economic diversity study, regional projects, and shared use facilities. The plan's growth initiatives include a resident retention and expansion strategy, a closer look at housing alternatives and infill strategy, exploring science and technology opportunities, transportation, along with a growth strategy and economic growth project.
City Council's adoption of the Strategic Plan comes on the heels to the City learning more about the business climate in the community through the Business Retention and Expansion initiative survey. Over 140 businesses provided feedback to the City, and the collected data is now being reviewed by a statistician. The project then moves into the strategic planning phase, when the City of Swift Current, together with its Economic Advisory Committee and the BRE Committee will engage the business community in a process that addresses the findings and generates concrete strategies for economic prosperity of Swift Current and the surrounding area.
"We really want to focus on target areas that we believe have a great opportunity to grow. So the survey data that the local businesses have provided us, coupled with the statisticians work, certainly will identity some priority areas that we can focus on and welcome new investors and welcome new business opportunities. So with more jobs, more investment, more opportunity, we will grow," Motkaluk said.
By providing a strong base for this growth strategy, Schafer feels the community will begin to show population growth.
"I don't think we've set any short term numbers in place. Our focus is just getting the Strategic Plan in place, and I think starting to build on all the different aspects within that plan because we think that's going to be a solid base."
With the last Statistics Canada census numbers showing a city population of 15,503, a 3.7 per cent rise from 2006, Schafer admitted they were initially disappointed with those totals, feeling they were shortchanged in what were their actual population growth numbers.
"The reality of it is, it was the first time that our community and our population grew in over 60 years if you look at population charts. So reversing a trend like that is a big swing. We're fortunate. We've had great provincial momentum happening. I think the attitudes in Saskatchewan are changing. But also the way the rest of the country views us in terms of opportunity. We think by building a strong base, which is what the Strategic Plan does, that it's going to give us the opportunity to really start to grow our population."
Schafer also highlighted Swift Current has a series of advantages which bode well for future growth. He pointed to the Great Plains College in having an important economic impact for the community.
"The growth of the Regional College is a huge impact economically as well as for growing our population and providing an important service," he said, pointing out expanded programs and expanding training opportunities at Great Plains College.
With the community already having made significant infrastructure investments in a Water Treatment Plant and the Waste Water Treatment Plant, he feels the addition of the Integrated Facility will also be an important amenity and key to additional growth.
"If we're able to translate that into our Integrated Facility and have a place that makes us certainly more of a destination on weekends, or improves the quality of life, that's why people visit here and that's why people want to move here."
A report late last month from the Conference Board of Canada highlighted that Regina, Saskatoon, Calgary and Edmonton are poised to lead Canadian metropolitan areas in economic growth this year. Schafer feels that Swift Current needs to position themselves to capture some of that growth.
"From my perspective, one of the biggest things that we need to continue focusing on in this province is working together. If Saskatoon and Regina are growing, that's a good thing for us because that's creating more opportunity in the province as well. We've got to do all that we can do to benefit from their growth and translate that into our community."
Schafer also contends that cooperation at all levels of governments is an important factor in this growth initiative.
"It's going to take a lot of cooperation between municipal governments in the area. Obviously us and the RM of Swift Current have to work together. Population growth in our community is good for the RM of Swift Current, as well as population growth in the RM of Swift Current is good for us as well. The same goes for businesses coming here. If land better suits them in the RM that's fine. If land in the City suits them, that's well too. Cooperation is vital."