OLDS - The region’s economy is trending in the right direction in 2022, including in the key agriculture sector, says Wellington Holbrook, the new chief executive officer of connectFirst Credit Union.
“There are challenges and opportunities in the future, but the general picture we see in the next few years is actually a pretty positive one,” said Holbrook. “We are feeling pretty good about it.”
ConnectFirst has more than 40 branches across central and southern Alberta, including in Olds, Carstairs, Didsbury, Sundre and Cremona.
“Obviously agriculture is still the biggest area of opportunity,” he said. “The area seems to be fairing better than other parts of the province from a perspective that there is better moisture in the ground.
“Demand is returned pretty quickly and I think that is going to be helpful to the local agriculture market. Well-run producers are going to find a way, I think, to make this a successful year.”
Asked if demand for local crops and livestock will be strong in 2022, he said, “It’s looking that way at the moment yes, just given the pressure on world food supplies. We are one of these very lucky markets that produces an excess, so it’s a great opportunity.
“We know that supply chains are becoming stretched for many foodstuffs and that’s an opportunity for local producers.”
Regarding real estate in the district, he says things are also looking good.
“At the moment we feel really good about the Alberta real estate market in general,” he said. “Although we’ve seen some inflation in the last few months, we are really catching up when you consider that Alberta since around 2007, 2008 we haven’t kept up nearly the pace of the rest of the country when it comes to real estate market prices.
“We are still below the national norms. Homes are still affordable in the province and we are quite bullish on residential real estate.
“When it comes to farmland we still think the long-term prospects are very good. There is no additional farmland of any meaningful way coming into the market globally so we don’t see prices going anywhere in the long-term but sort of a steady upward trajectory.”
Asked about the impact possible increasing interest rates may have, he said, “We don’t think the impact will be quite as meaningful here as elsewhere. Every individual has different circumstances of course but it won’t put the damper on the real estate market here that it will in Toronto, for example.”
While the oil and gas industry will remain important to the provincial economy, manufacturing and other industries are on the upswing, he said.
“We are expecting to see new business creation go up in the next years and that’s reason for optimism,” he said.
Holbrook says he foresees Credit Unions such as connectFirst continuing to support community groups, sports teams, and other local organizations in rural Alberta throughout 2022.