Going global

Driven by the notion that technology erases all boundaries in the global economy, energetic little Grande Prairie is catapulting itself into the ranks of big cities. Its sophisticated website at http://www.city.grande-prairie.ab.ca/ makes the point.

From a photo album of the city’s amenities, to a business plan that lays out the civic government’s goals, strategies and performance measurement procedures, the site fairly shouts out Grande Prairie’s ambition of achieving a national profile as an innovative organization. Information like performance measurement is generally considered confidential, but putting it all on the web makes visible the whole organization’s sense of accountability.

The goal of a national profile may seem heady for a northern city of 36,000, but City Manager Deryl Kloster makes clear that Grande Prairie is well on its way to putting itself on the map. (The only dispute is about where on the map it sits, given a revision by Statistics Canada last year that placed it in Southern, not Northern, Alberta.)

Grande Prairie is pinning its reputation as an innovative organization on effective business planning, fiscal responsibility, and the breadth of services it offers.

“We have one of the most extensive databases on the web, and we have people seeking information from us globally on the web,” Kloster says. “(Our site) has been featured (in magazines) and we’ve done presentations on the city and the things we do, our technology development, our business planning process.

“We made sure we had high-speed Internet access by investing public dollars with the private sector 4 1/2 years ago. Now we’re moving into a full suite of products that will allow people to get into our system to pay bills and purchase things, with full access to information about their accounts — water and sewer, dog licences, and so on.”

The whole city is mapped out on-line using GIS — graphic information services — software. “People can look at their lot, find out where their utilities run, what their assessment is,” Kloster says. “(GIS) is a planning device for the city internally. It’s useful for developers, business people and if you want to find out about zoning — say if you want to put in a double car garage. It makes us available seven days a week, 24 hours a day. ”

In the business planning process, “we try to focus on where we are trying to head as a community over the next number of years. Then we break it down into pieces we can address and involve our staff in creating the plans. That involves policy makers, staff and community, and it’s a cycle that says we’re going to set targets, deliver the service, measure results, then report on the outcomes.

“We’re envisioning being a leading northwestern centre. We’re an internationally connected community ready for and able to compete in this new global economy,” Kloster sums up with buoyant confidence.

Sprawled on a frostbitten patch of prairie northwest of Edmonton, Grande Prairie boasts lakes, forests and mountains. The thriving economy is rooted in lumber and the surrounding oil and gas fields, but local companies reach well beyond resource extraction. Risley Industries designs and manufactures lumbering equipment for the global industry; Weyerhauser, Canfor and Ainsworth are known internationally in the pulp and paper industry.

And over the past four years what started out as a regional hub for government and health care services has turned into a regional retail hub that serves more than 200,000 people from as far away as Dawson Creek, Peace River and even Yellowknife, N.W.T. “People used to go to Edmonton, but because there’s been quite an influx of big box stores here it saves them at least five hours’ driving (each way),” Kloster says.

Add farming and Gateway-to-the-North tourism, and the result is a balanced , burgeoning economy. “We’re about to open a $3-million business development and tourism centre. It’s a very forward-looking community, very concerned about the future, and we’re making sure we have the ability to compete in this new global economy,” Kloster says.

The government’s program to gain recognition as an innovative organization is simply the expression of the community’s future-oriented, entrepreneurial spirit, says Kloster, who was chief administrative officer of Airdrie, a bedroom community to Calgary, for 20 years before he moved to Grand Prairie five years ago.

“People are not satisfied with the status quo. People want not only to succeed, but to become better. That’s our community. All government is trying to do is simply reflect that and do our part. Our role as government is to make sure our citizens, our public customers and the world know what we’re all about.”