5 Top Towns for investors on the Prairies

Despite the oil downturn, some western centres are thriving. Here is our pick of places for smart real estate investments right now

By
Western Investor
July 27, 2016





Brandon MB
Brandon, Manitoba: power of the Prairies.

Brandon:

Manitoba’s second biggest city is centrally situated and robustly diverse, with an economic base that includes more than 2,000 businesses involved in everything from agricultural food processing to farming, manufacturing and the service industry. The manufacturing of metals, chemicals and pharmaceuticals account for the bulk of the jobs, and Brandon also has companies supplying the nearby Bakken oil fields.

Brandon’s industrial muscle was underlined last month when Toronto-based Super Plus Corp. moved to acquire Canexus – whose flagship plant is based in Brandon – in a $324 million deal. Conexus’s Brandon facility employs 77 workers involved in the production of products for the pulp and paper, water treatment and oil and gas industries. It is the largest such facility in the world.

Brandon is the service and retail centre for some 180,000 people across southwest Manitoba, which has a total population of nearly 110,000. The primary trading area includes 60,000 people within a 30-kilometre radius of the city. Included within the zone is Canadian Forces Base Shilo employing approximately 1,750 personnel. The city is also located an hour’s drive from the Bakken oil fields.

Brandon has an unemployment rate of a healthy 5.2 per cent and a rental vacancy rate of 1.1 per cent, the lowest in Manitoba, according to Sandy Trudel, the city’s director of economic development.

Brandon is also one of the most welcoming cities for immigrants in the West. This August, more than 200 people from 20 countries took their oath of citizenship at the Shilo base, indicative of the steady flow of job-seeking immigrants to Brandon over the past decades. The city’s web page reflects that diversity: it is available in eight languages.

The average detached house price in Brandon is $273,000 and sales in September were up 33 per cent from a year earlier, a rare feat in most Prairies cities this year.

Martensville, Saskatchewan. Pop: 9,044

The City of Martensville is just minutes north of Saskatoon in Saskatchewan’s most prosperous and populated economic region. Martensville’s location means it is the service center to the Saskatoon- North area along Highway 12.

Martensville is one of Canada’s fastest growing cities according to the last census when population increased by 55 per cent over five years. Growth is anticipated to continue at a rate of 4 to 7 per cent per year.

Martensville’s highway exposure, land inventory, population growth and demographics have made the city attractive for new investment and business start-ups. Commercial property assessment values tripled since 2010 reflecting the increase in the number of businesses.

“Our community wants to support commercial development in any way possible,” confirmed Martensville Mayor Kent Murdock

A number of major stores and franchises have established in Martensville such as Canalta Hotels, Pharmasave and the province’s first RV mall, the Oak Centre RV Mall. Canadian Tire and Boston Pizza are slated to open next year. Saskatoon Co-op recently announced a new 30,000-square-foot food store to open in 2016.

The expansion of local amenities is highlighted with the Martensville Athletic Pavilion, a large multi-purpose facility that opened in late 2014. The high school is undergoing a 50,000-square-foot expansion. Lake Vista the community’s latest subdivision, will have over 1,100 homes at build out and be home to two new elementary schools set to open in 2017.

The average detached house price in Martensville is $397,000 and the rental vacancy rate is in the 4.5 per cent range.

Moose Jaw:

Surrounded by some of the most fertile land on the planet, and with the vast reserves of high quality potash nearby, this Saskatchewan city of 33,700 enjoys strong commercial and industrial growth. The city’s expansion is reflected in the many new housing developments being built and quickly occupied. Moose Jaw, a short drive from Regina, is attracting major investors and multinational corporations, and has a thriving downtown business sector that shares in a booming tourist trade.

Verna Alford,who purchased and restored the award winning Grant Hall Inn, said, “Moose Jaw has all the amenities of a larger city – thriving tourism and arts and culture sectors, a strong business sector and a unique and historic downtown with boutique-style shopping. It is a gem of a community [that] still retains a small town lifestyle.”

Site selectors representing several international companies are looking to Moose Jaw for both commercial and industrial investment.

Business projects under development, or expanding, include the Grayson Business Park, Civic Centre Plaza, plus two large residential developments. Several new restaurants and two new hotels have opened, with a national chain restaurant and a third hotel under construction.

In recent years, Moose Jaw saw the completion of a new AgroCorp facility, an expansion of Simpson Seeds, construction of the new Civic Centre Plaza, and the opening of a new hospital.

Just 58 kilometers north of the city, the first greenfield potash mine in over four decades is under construction – the $4.25 billion K+S Potash Legacy Mine. Currently the K+S potash mine is moving closer to its operational phase which is creating a great deal of interest from job seekers and suppliers to the potash sector.

The average house price in Moose Jaw is $239,000 – $200,000 below the Canadian average - and the apartment rental vacancy rate is 3.6 per cent.

Lloydminster:

Named Canada’s most entrepreneurial city in 2014 by theCanadian Federation of Independent Business, Lloydminster straddles the Saskatchewan-Alberta border and appears to draw the best from both sides. With a population of 31,377 it serves a trade area of more than 130,000 people. The real estate play here is retail and distribution warehouses. In 2014, the city was named one of Canada’s top 100 centres to invest in by Canadian Real Estate Wealth magazine, the only Saskatchewan city to make the list.

Strategically located between Saskatoon and Edmonton, along the Yellowhead Trans-Canada Highway, retail has become Lloydminster’s largest employment sector and covers more than 2,000,000 square feet of shopping space. With an economy founded on agriculture and energy, the city has seen a 15 per cent growth in population since 2011.

All of the big-box brand names are already in this shopping Mecca.

Near the centre of town is a new16-acre Choice Properties development anchored by the Real Canadian Superstore and currently expanding by 100,000 square feet.

Other developments include a new Synergy Credit Union head office and new Microtel and Hampton Inn hotels. Lakeland College has completed its Energy Centre, a 2.5 storey building with 25,833 square feet. Little Pine First Nation has purchased land and has expressed interest in developing a casino and convention centre hotel.

“We work hard to continuously encourage new developments,” said Lloydminster mayor Rob Saunders.

The median house price is $419,000, down 3.5 per cent from a year ago and the apartment rental vacancy rate is a high 11.6 per cent, up from near zero a year ago.

Lethbridge: 

With a GDP of $5.01 billion forecast for this year, up 1.2 per cent from 2014 and projections of a further 1.7 per cent expansion in 2016, according to the Conference Board of Canada, this agricultural centre in southern Alberta is thriving.

“As a result of a reasonable level of diversification, we have managed to avoid the traditional boom and bust cycles associated with oil and gas in our province,” said Economic Development Lethbridge CEO Trevor Lewington. Aside from booming agriculture – the region supports 60 per cent of Canada’s beef industry and beef prices are at record highs –Lethbridge has industries involved in aviation, manufacturing and supply chain and logistics.

City stats show that most commercial real estate per-square-foot prices are rising, which is rare this year in Alberta. The average price paid for retail space through the first half of this year was $119.48 per square foot, up from $91.31 in the same period last year. Industrial prices increased about 10 per cent to $121.24 per square foot, but office properties were selling for $97.31 per square foot in September, down from $137.43 in 2014.

In an informal survey of Alberta real estate agents in September, Lethbridge was one of the few bright spots, according to Duane Ritter of Re/Max Edmonton. Ritter’s survey found that detached house sales in Lethbridge were up 7 per cent from a year earlier and the average house price was holding steady at just over $305,000. The rental vacancy has increased, however, to 6.2 per cent, third highest in Alberta. 

 

- With files and assistance from Alvaro Campos, market analyst with ICR Commercial Real Estate, Saskatoon. This archived article is from November , 2015, Western Investor 


Frank O'Brien is the editor of Western Canada's biggest commercial real estate newspaper, Western Investor, as well as a contributing editor at West Coast Condominium, real estate contributor to Business in Vancouver and a regular media commentator on real estate investment.
Copyright © Western Investor

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