Walmart, established in the 1960s in the United States, is characterized as a big box department store with discount products and its global sales reached $481 billion in 2017. Amazon, meanwhile, was launched in the 1990s and is predominantly focused on selling retail goods over the internet. It has an increasingly growing list of products that helped the company reach sales of $177 billion in 2017.
One thing these two giants do have in common is a footprint firmly planted in Balzac, Alberta.
The tiny hamlet is part of Rocky View County, a rural municipality with a population of nearly 40,000 people that sits adjacent to the west, north and east perimeter of Calgary. Balzac is situated to the north of Calgary, just outside the city limits and about 25 kilometres away from the city’s downtown.
Amazon Canada completed its 600,000 square foot distribution centre in 2018. Walmart Canada’s 1.1 million square foot Fresh Food Distribution Centre first opened in 2010 and was expanded in 2014. Both facilities serve as a hub for distributing goods across Western Canada.
“We’re responding to customer demand and want to ensure our [distribution centres] are close to customers so we can offer great Prime service and fast shipping speeds,” says Lauren Lynch, spokesperson with Amazon Canada. “We also look at the workforce, and we’ve found talent in abundance in Rocky View.”
Paul Derksen, the senior vice-president of industrial real estate for Quadreal Properties, which leases more than 1.2 million square feet of commercial space in Balzac including Amazon’s site, says the transportation infrastructure is key to the area’s success.
“There are massive intersections near all four corners of our development lands,” he said. “These give us the ability to attract tenants.”
Balzac is located along the Queen Elizabeth II Highway (Alberta’s main north-south artery that includes a nearly 300-kilometre route between Edmonton and
Calgary), as well as other major infrastructure including
Calgary’s ring road and the Calgary International Airport. There are also no business taxes.
These factors have helped attract a number of large scale commercial and retail businesses to the area, including a number in the transportation, warehousing and logistics sector.
The economic benefit to Rocky View County is significant. The county’s 2017 Year-End Economic Development Report states the municipality’s non-residential tax base grew from $3.5 billion in 2012 to $5 billion in 2017, an over 42 percent increase.
“Balzac is not just a retail and entertainment story, it is a case study for economic diversification in Alberta,” says Dave Kalinchuk, economic development manager with Rocky View County. “Retail has become a magnet for investment attraction.”