During the 2017 Economic Developers of Alberta (EDA) Annual Conference, the City of St. Albert won the Award of Excellence for Business and Investment Attraction for their ground-breaking work on an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Program.
The EDA is one of the largest non-profit economic development networks in Alberta, providing resources and training to economic development professionals. At their conference, over 400 delegates from Canada and the United States gathered in Banff, Alberta to learn about the latest trends and issues in economic development. The EDA also presents Awards of Excellence to organizations in the categories of Business Retention and Expansion, Business and Investment Attraction, and Community Economic Development. The award categories are also divided into Small/Medium/Large communities or regions. The City of St. Albert Economic Development was a finalist in its weight class (the "Medium Community" category) for the Business and Investment Attraction Excellence Award, for two projects: the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Program ("Drone" project), as well as the 3D Virtual Reality Future LRT project. Ultimately, St. Albert's Economic Development Department won the EDA Award of Excellence for Business and Investment Attraction for their ground-breaking work on the UAV Pilot Project.
Prior to 2015, the City of St. Albert would need to hire full-size helicopters, as well as videographers to obtain current, development-focused aerial photography for records keeping, marketing, and promotional material. Due to the cost of these services, flights could only be conducted sparingly, often missing out on critical moments in the development of new neighbourhoods or construction projects. With the purchase of a small, cost-effective UAV (the DJI Phantom 2+), the Economic Development Department at the City of St. Albert was able to drastically reduce the cost of providing aerial photography, as well as increase the level of service provided each year. After extensive training from Canadian Unmanned - a highly-specialized UAV training and support company - staff set to work creating the UAV Program at the City of St. Albert. This involves applying to Transport Canada for a Special Flight Operations Certificate each year, obtaining the requisite insurance, and establishing clear communications and directives for when and how the UAV can be operated. After one year of successful operation, the UAV has flown over 10 successful flights, obtaining aerial photography of exciting new developments in the community. Flights have also been conducted by the Public Works Department for surveying City-owned sites for the intent of site layout optimization. From Jensen Lakes in the north, to Anthony Business Park in the south, the UAV program at the City of St. Albert is ensuring the growth of the community is documented and communicated to the public, helping to spur further investment by keeping investors up-to-date on the progress of developing lands.