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Mayor Jeff Genung talks tech and growth at annual State of Cochrane address

During his speech, Genung highlighted the Town’s Strategic Growth Plan, financial health, infrastructure improvements, and some selected local success stories.
Mayor Jeff Genung delivered the State of Cochrane address Feb. 9 at the RancheHouse.

About 130 Cochranites, many of them members of the business community, came out to hear Mayor Jeff Genung deliver his annual State of Cochrane address at the RancheHouse on Feb. 9, and they heard that the fastest growing town in Alberta has some challenges moving ahead.

During his speech, Genung highlighted the Town’s Strategic Growth Plan, financial health, infrastructure improvements, and some selected local success stories.

He asked the crowd for their support in pushing past hardships to join in affecting positive change in Cochrane.

At a number of points in his talk, he referred to Cochrane as experiencing “extreme growth.” Coming as it did just three days after the announcement by Garmin Canada of plans to add 200 new hi-tech jobs in Cochrane, it seemed that story was still fresh in people’s minds, as the subject garnered two rounds of applause.

The other interruption for applause came in response to the way Genung framed the proposed rail line project, which if approved, would run through town, and how the Town is planning for it to include a stop at The Station.

“We have also left space on the site for a future rail platform so that when – not if – the Calgary Airport to Banff Rail project is completed, there is a stop in Cochrane,” he said, with a nod towards provincial minister of energy and Airdrie-Cochrane MLA Peter Guthrie, who was sitting in the crowd.

Though the COVID-19 pandemic is pretty much in the rear-view mirror, the mayor said the community still faces challenges in the areas of staffing and supply chain issues, inflation, and impacts on mental health and well-being.

“Cochrane is full of resilient and innovative citizens and businesses, so I implore you – let’s work together to put the negative aspects of the past in the rear-view,” he said.

Town of Cochrane CEO Mike Derricott emceed an interactive session with the crowd, where participants logged into a question-and-answer segment on their phones, and watched their responses pop up live on the screen at the front of the room.

When asked “What brought you here today?” the answers were liberally peppered with “support for the mayor, Jeff,” etc.

Other responses included “my wife” and “car.”

The clearly pro-Genung audience paid $50 per person to attend the event, which was sponsored by the Cochrane Chamber of Commerce. Tickets included hot hors d’oeuvres and a drink.

The mayor offered up some statistics from the Calgary Real Estate Board, such as the number of Cochrane home sales in 2022 – 1,141; the number of single-family home starts – 540; and the average home price – $561,200 (a 21.92 per cent increase from 2021’s $460,300).

The list of success stories included the purchase of the Southbow Lands by Qualico, the development of the Greystone community, as well as infrastructure projects like the Highway 1A/22 interchange, the new RCMP detachment, and the opening of The Station.

From a financial standpoint, Genung argued the Town is living within its means.

“Most of you probably don’t realize that we actually have a debt limit imposed on us by the province, and we are well below this,” he said.

He mentioned the importance of contributions made by the development community, which in the past helped pay for the over $40-million Jack Tennant Memorial Bridge without using any tax dollars.

Genung added the addition an inter-governmental portfolio to the Town’s administrative team was a recognition of the importance of working closely with the province to address infrastructure challenges.

From the mayor’s perspective, the importance of the tech sector for Cochrane’s future is clear, as it took up the largest portion of his speech. He brought up his recent travels to Las Vegas for a tech convention to learn how Cochrane can eventually become a hub for the sector.

“I caught up with a couple of Cochrane businesses there as well as continued to research the start- up environment,” Genung said. “But mainly it was to solidify in the minds of our tech community we are serious.

“To be transparent, this trip cost $4,579.77. I know this specific amount as my travel expenses have been the subject of a recent FOIP request,” he added.

FOIP is the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy act, which protects the public's right to know and an individual's right to privacy, as these rights relate to information held by public-sector bodies in Alberta, including governments.

After the lengthy section on the importance of the tech sector, Genung hinted at more news coming on the horizon.

But the story that got audience members nodding their heads in approval the most came at the end, when Genung spoke of his lunch with the Patel family, who recently opened Wayback Burger on Fifth Avenue. They were amazed to witness a small act of kindness, which Genung said explains a lot about why people are moving to Cochrane in droves.

He said Nirav Patel and his family are first-time business owners and first-time homeowners who were working long hours to get their restaurant up and running.

“It was snowing a lot at that time and Nirav came home to find that his neighbour, from four doors down, had recognized they were busy at work and shoveled their sidewalks for them – all the way to the door,” Genung said.

Howard May

About the Author: Howard May

Howard was a journalist with the Calgary Herald and with the Abbotsford Times in BC, where he won a BC/Yukon Community Newspaper Association award for best outdoor writing.
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