More people are choosing to make their primary residence in the Fort McMurray area even though the region saw a slight dip in the overall population, according to data from the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo’s latest census.
The most recent municipal census shows the region saw a significant decline in the shadow population — people who are in the region for work but don’t live there permanently.
Between 2018 and 2021, the population of the RMWB dropped from 111,687 people to 106,059. But the permanent population increased by almost one per cent. The shadow population, including people who identified as living in project accommodations, dropped by 17 per cent.
Kodjo Efu, supervisor of socio-economic in planning development for the municipality, said the decline was expected as there has been a downturn in the economy and the census was taken during the pandemic.
“A lot of those work camps, while they were being utilized, but they were not being utilized at full capacity.”
One of the biggest takeaways he saw was that 6,700 people were new residents since the last census in 2018.
The majority of the new residents said the reason they moved to the community was for work.
The census ran from April 1 to July 31, 2021 and cost approximately $200,000, said Efu.
‘Driven by oil prices’
Perry Berkenpas, executive director of the Oil Sands Community Alliance, said the reduction in shadow population is “driven by oil prices.”
During the height of the pandemic, the industry was reduced to essential workers and companies were spending less money with lower oiler prices.
“When you look at the operating costs and the capital costs, both having a significant impact then on the remote workforce that comes to the area, that would drive down … the shadow population,” said Berkenpas.
Operating costs dropped by 16 per cent from 2018 to 2020, said Berkenpas.
That was coupled with COVID, which created an “accelerated drive towards remote work,” said Berkenpas.
“A lot of the jobs on site, we have found ways to do them differently in different places,” said Berkenpas.
“It’s lower cost to do some of that work remotely than it is to do it on site.”
Real estate and the permanent population
Melanie Galea, president of the Fort McMurray Real Estate Board, said the increase in the permanent population wasn’t surprising to her, as the market has been busy and sales are increasing in 2022.
One of the most exciting she’s seen is an increase in home sales, particularly single-family home sales.
She described it as a “soft seller’s market.”
This April, Fort McMurray saw the month with the most single-family home sales since July 2014, with 87 homes sold.
“We are seeing people come to town, we’re also seeing a lot of first-time home buyers,” said Galea.
“It’s a great sign for recovery for Fort McMurray,” said Galea.
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