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The Value of Building Connections: Urban Systems Joins the Fort McMurray Community

Amie McGowan – Community Consultant and Fort McMurray Branch Leader

For over seven years, Urban Systems has been building relationships in Fort McMurray and the larger Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB). Working on projects ranging from engineering services and municipal works, to urban infrastructure and rehabilitation, the RMWB has been a long-standing and valued client. Making the regular commute into the region has become quite common for many of our consultants, but continuing to serve our clients from afar was limiting our opportunities to foster greater collaborations in the area.

“The work that we have been doing has been satisfying and the relationships we’ve created worthwhile,” states Amie McGowan. As a Community Consultant, she has lived in Fort McMurray for seven years and held numerous professional roles within the community. Her dedication to the region made her the perfect person to launch Urban Systems’ newest office as Branch Leader in the city she calls home. “Over the years, there’s also been a growing amount of work with our First Nations and Indigenous clients and many of the outlying communities. Having a local office means we are better positioned to continue servicing those groups with our best foot forward.”

Investing Locally Means Being Local

Due to the nature of the industry in the area, there is a community sentiment around professional services flying in and out but not actually investing in the region, which doesn’t go very far in building relationships. For Amie, heading up a Fort McMurray office means showing a commitment to investing locally and being local.

“It’s important to the community that the services are local. There’s definitely a culture around procuring local, buying local and doing business locally,” she explains. “It’s a community where it makes a big difference to physically be here.” As a member of the community herself, Amie notes the value placed on being able to feel like the people that are working with the RMWB understand their needs and want to invest in and be present in the community.

To date, Urban Systems has been quite involved with the local Municipality (the RMWB), from planning their city centre revitalization in 2011 to the engineering and construction services we are currently delivering in the rural hamlets of Anzac and Gregoire Lake Estates. Keith Fransson, a Project Manager who has regularly been making the 450-km trip to Fort McMurray from Edmonton, views our local presence as an opportunity to expand on what we can offer the region; “We’re looking at getting involved in the full realm of services, from the design and constructions areas, to planning and land development, organization and governance support to the RMWB, as well as social impact projects through Urban Matters; really expanding beyond our design and construction services to date.” There is also an incredible opportunity to help the surrounding communities with addressing new development in a sustainable way.

Supporting Sustainable Growth

Amie and Josh Arbeau showing off the new office

Because it’s a resource and industry based community, there’s a continual conversation around how to best approach development in the region. Questions arise around the work that is bringing people into the area and if those people intend to set roots or is there more of a fly-in-fly-out mentality? For those communities that want to grow, what happens when the resource-based industry eventually dissipates? Will the community that has been built disappear?

For Amie, addressing those concerns in a positive and hopeful way goes hand in hand with the mindset of the people who live in the RMWB. “It’s about supporting that kind of longevity and really showing that the connection and spirit of this place is about more than just industry.” The people living in the Region understand that much of the economy in the area is resource driven, and that it is not infinite, so there is value in building a sustainable model for future growth. “Whether it’s the Municipality that we’re supporting or other smaller community groups, having a sustainable, thriving community means taking all those factors into account.”

Serendipity Brings the Return of a Familiar Face

Bringing Urban Systems’ commitment to supporting vibrant communities is not new to Amie. Prior to her move to Fort McMurray, she was a consultant in the Vancouver office for a number of years. Although having left Vancouver and Urban Systems to move Northeast, she maintained many of the connections with her colleagues, including Matt Brassard, an Engineer in the Edmonton office who would often meet up with Amie when in town. Those relationships proved serendipitous in early 2017 when a series of circumstances led to an exciting opportunity.

“My husband and I were looking at having to move back to Vancouver for his work,” she recounts, “and I had opened some doors with Urban Systems about possibly rejoining the South Coast team.” However, her husband’s work commitments evolved and were still going to require more than 50% of his time in Fort McMurray. Cue an unexpected call from Matt, asking Amie to be sure to connect him with anyone she felt would be a good fit for Urban Systems’ planned Fort McMurray office before she moved away.

“Actually, I do know somebody in Fort McMurray!,” she muses, noting how without expecting it, everything sort of fell into place. “It was kind of like a dream come true, getting to come back to Urban while still getting to stay up here. We love living up here – it’s a great community, we’ve made a lot of really good friends, and it’s home. Working with Urban locally provides an incredible opportunity for me to add value to our community and contribute in a truly meaningful way. I’m excited to grow our service offerings for the Region and the community.”

For the time being, Amie is working in a shared space in Fort McMurray as the face of Urban Systems’ local office, with the support of colleagues like Keith and Matt regularly traveling in to work on various projects in the region, and with additional local staff joining her this summer. She is grateful to have been given the choice to stay in the community she has come to call home and continue to build not only her personal, but also professional, relationships in a place she has come to appreciate as a strong, independent and tight-knit community, and one where she is proud to continue laying her roots.

The Hangingstone River in Fort McMurray, after we completed the flood recovery and shore restoration works.

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