Alberta HUB welcomes new executive director

Northeast Alberta Information HUB welcomed Perry Phillips as their new executive director on April 1.

One of nine regional economic development alliances in the province, the position became available after nearly a decade when Bob Bezpalko moved on to a position as manager of economic development for the Town of Vegreville.

“Bob, along with the Alberta HUB Directors have created a great legacy with this organization,” said Phillips.

“Over the years, Alberta HUB has continued to grow and successfully supported its members. Everyone has made me feel welcome, and I am eager to get out across the region and visit each Alberta HUB member to learn more about their regional economic development interests and needs.”

Bezpalko is confident Phillips has all the qualities needed to take things to the next level, and vice chair Caroline McAuley said his diverse background including value added agriculture will serve this area well. Organizational development, project management and experience in the energy sector will also be a plus.

“Economic Development is key to the wealth and quality of life of Alberta communities – if we are not moving forward then we are going backward. We are either seizing and creating diverse business opportunities or opportunities are passing us by,” said Phillips.

“Northeast Alberta has a robust agriculture industry, a resilient energy sector and huge opportunities in the areas of aerospace and defence. We are intersected with excellent highways and an accessible rail network connecting to broad market access. Our regional system of post-secondary institutions and applied research organizations are a unique asset. Identifying and expanding opportunities across and between industries is key for a robust and sustainable economy.”

With experience in local food system initiatives, Phillips sees potential for the Alberta agriculture and food industry. He said even in its basic form as a producer of commodities, whether shipped abroad or consumed in Alberta the industry contributes extensively to communities across this province. With a growing world population, he said the demand for agricultural products can only increase and the spin-offs and opportunities upstream and downstream are huge by way of processing, manufacturing, retail, or transportation.

From Highway 16 to Lac La Biche and Cold Lake, Alberta HUB has worked for the past 20 years to enable investment, business support and entrepreneurship, and community regional capacity building. They also partner with the Government of Alberta, aligning their goals with departments such as Jobs Economy and Innovation, Transportation, Agriculture, Energy, and Tourism.

Bob Bezpalko said, “I grew up in Derwent and went to work in the big city but when I came back, my school didn’t exist, my village didn’t exist. It’s very important understanding where we all fit, and with regionalism we are able to leverage resources and funding for communities joining forces and promoting each municipality in a regional context.”

He said 30 to 50 years ago municipalities and their stores, education and healthcare were relying on local economies for support, but now they are relying on the global economy. It’s critical to understand where your community fits in the regional landscape, because we feel the effects of global surplus, demand and production, in the oil and gas industry for example.

A small community can still be valuable with roughly 135,000 people in the Alberta HUB region to support them.

“Throughout the years I’ve seen business and industry, colleges and a university brought together which is the pure definition of economic development. We are all in this together to grow, and schools employ people, and communities themselves support one another. The Alberta HUB region is located on Treaty Six territory and the homeland of the Métis people and we are very proud to have four Métis settlements and three First Nations as members,” said Bezpalko.

“Alberta HUB is like a table. Municipalities fall into one chair, colleges in one chair, government departments in one chair, as well as business and industry in one chair. Everybody brings something to the table, and you are better able to understand what your neighbour is doing. Information is power, and discussions can help you see where or what you are connected to in different places through highways, etc,” said Bezpalko.

When it comes to investment, he said people want to know where the highways are and where the access to labour comes from. They focus on economic development which he said also drives social programs, education and health care.

A few large projects have come out of Alberta HUB in recent years including a transportation project report detailing the state of highways and industry development which was used expensively by Alberta Transportation.

Alberta HUB (northern) the Central Region and Palliser Economic Partnership (southern) created an initiative highlighting the Eastern Alberta Trade Corridor which features Highways 36 and 41 with access to US and Mexican markets.

“This transportation corridor is critical to our market and has global access,” said Bezpalko.

HUB has also worked on broadband connectivity creating a strategic model for the state of connectivity.

They have also collaborated with InnoTech Alberta for the past nine years seeing what industrial hemp can bring to the region. After about 5 to 6 years, Bezpalko said they began seeing investment with more decorticator companies as well as CBD extraction, and processing.

“If you love what you do it’s not a job, and I can truly say I loved what I did. It was always new and exciting, never the same. Working with a lot of different people answering the question, ‘what problem are we trying to solve.’ It was a wild exciting ride thanks to friends and colleagues along the way,” said Bezpalko.

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