Thursday, August 13, 2015

Why the Census Matters

In case you've been living under a rock , the official results of City of Grande Prairie's municipal census were released today. The results showed that GP has grown an astounding 24% in the last 4 years which gives us a population count of 68,556!

GP remains one of the youngest cities in Canada with 26% of our residents under the age of 20 and 8% under the age of 5. We continue to have more children under the age of 5 than we have seniors 65 and over.

Wow, that's's cool to know...but what's the point of a census?

When I brought the idea up of having another municipal census a year ago, there were several reasons for it.  They include:

1. Infrastructure and Program Planning

As the City develops plans for new roads, recreation facilities, playgrounds, etc., the census numbers give us a better idea of how quickly and where to build to better serve our residents.  For example, many of our road plans state that when the population hits "x" then it should be widened, when it hits "y" then it should be twinned, etc.

The neighbourhood breakdown gives our City staff, community groups, businesses and other government bodies a better idea of where to provide services.  For example, if someone is looking to set up an after school drop-in centre, Pinnacle may be an ideal spot because there is a high number of 5-14 year olds (605 to be exact).

These updated numbers also help our school boards to more effectively plan for additional class space and new schools.

2. Increased Grant Funding

Many of provincial and federal grants the City receives have a portion that is given out on a per-capita basis. A population increase of 13,524 translates into an additional $3.1 million entering our city each year (unless grants are cut of course). Pretty good return on the $171,000 census.

3. Attracting Retail Stores

When investing in a market, retail businesses need to know whether there is the population base there to sustain their operations. Some large chains even set hard population thresholds before entering a market (for example, Olive Garden and Red Lobster require 100,000).

Our economic development department has already begun to make sure the retail business community nationwide has the most up to date numbers.

4. Bragging Rights

Move on over St. Albert and Medicine Hat! Alberta has a new number 5! Council will be walking with a new swagger when we meet with our colleagues from across the province next month.

In all seriousness though, this massive increase does send quite the message to the provincial and federal governments about our intensely rapid growth.  When we advocate for projects like more schools and the finishing of the bypass, we now have a lot more clout behind us.

To put our growth in context, we are adding the population equivalent of a Beaverlodge and a Hythe to our numbers each year.

So there you have it...why censuses matter.  If you're planning on using the census data for anything, I'd love to hear what for.

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