Tiny hamlet of Balzac says it's ready for Alberta's Amazon warehouse

A southern Alberta hamlet says it's ready to accommodate potentially thousands of new workers joining an Amazon shipping depot under construction just north of Calgary.

Diner owner hopes influx of workers will mean more hungry customers without worsening traffic

The new Amazon distribution facility, located just outside Calgary, will employ more than 1,000 full-time workers once it opens. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

A southern Alberta hamlet says it's ready to accommodate potentially thousands of new workers joining an Amazon shipping depot under construction.

The online commerce giant has opened applications for 1,000 jobs at its soon-to-open facility in Balzac, just north of Calgary, past the airport and before Airdrie. The reeve of Rocky View County says he understands the facility, known as a fulfilment centre, may employ up to 3,000 people when operating at full capacity.

"We created jobs through the construction phase, through the implementation phase and then the operational phase," Reeve Greg Boehlke told the Calgary Eyeopener on Wednesday. "And hopefully this will bring spinoff business that comes to the area, as well."

Balzac itself is so small, its population isn't tracked by Statistics Canada. The unincorporated hamlet is in Rocky View County, home to just under 40,000 people, according to the 2016 census, and they're spread across almost 4,000 square kilometres.

The 600,000-square-foot Amazon facility, which will process orders from Western Canada, joins a league of large businesses — CrossIron Mills mall, Costco, the soon-to-open New Horizon Mall and others — in the commercial district on the east side of Highway 2 in Balzac.

Most of the hamlet is to the west of the highway and consists of a gas station, a Fifties-style diner, community centre, fire hall and a few other businesses.

Bonnie McDougall, who owns the Balzac Diner, says she thinks only one man lives in the hamlet's centre. Others involved in the community live nearby in rural areas, Airdrie or, like she does, a short drive away in northwest Calgary.

The Balzac Diner is one of a handful of businesses to the west of Highway 2 in the hamlet. The others are in the commercial district to the east, where the new Amazon warehouse is being built. (Balzac Diner website)

The area has gotten busier in recent years with the development east of the highway, she said. Some businesses direct their staff to her for lunch but she's hoping to see a lot more people crossing the road after Amazon opens.

"We are sort of a little hidden gem," MacDougall said. "We're starting to see more people. Just the volume of cars that go by our restaurant and gas station is increasing because of development in the area."

Amazon's warehouse is all positive, MacDougall said, with the only negative being possible traffic delays.

Hear more from the reeve about how Amazon may put Balzac on the map:

The county is looking at improving transportation in the community to accommodate the workers, who will be driving or taking the bus to work, the reeve said.

They plan to add a bus stop for Airdrie Transit by the warehouse, Boehlke said, and they're discussing how to improve highway traffic flow.

"Balzac is a very small part of our population, and at 40,000 people, we probably aren't going to be the major source of employment," he said. "It's going to be probably the City of Calgary and Airdrie and the surrounding area."

Boehlke expects the county to benefit from the property taxes Amazon will pay. The county does not collect a business tax.

"That's exactly what we'd like, and so it's a boom for us," he said.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.