Up & Away

Northlands evolves from an agricultural networking opportunity into something much more involved

Before Alberta became a province, and before Edmonton became a city, there was Northlands. Originally founded in 1879 as an agricultural community, Northlands has since grown into one of Alberta’s largest event hosts, producers, and partners, and as a nonprofit organization, it generates $355 million of spending in the area. In 2011, it directly invested $1.1 million straight back into the community. Richard L. Andersen recently renewed his contract as president and CEO of Northlands and continues to build the organization into a vital component of the community.

I’ve been with Northlands for just over two years, and when I came onboard, the request from the board was that we evaluate the organization, create changes, and ensure a sustainable future. We’re a not-for-profit organization that is built around adding to the community’s quality of life by providing sports-and-entertainment experiences. We’re one of the largest multipurpose sports-and-entertainment complexes in the world. We have the 27th-busiest arena in the world. We have the largest conference centre in Canada outside of Toronto. We have the only Class-A thoroughbred racing track in Alberta, and we run about four million people per year through our campus—that’s more than the total population of Alberta. Northlands is a busy place.

Because we’re a not-for-profit, our single mandate is to do what’s in the best interest of the greater Edmonton area and region. How do we learn what the community needs and then work to create programmatic outcomes to meet those needs? We do this by listening. Since I came on, we’ve expanded our community relations department, so we’re out in the community and constantly looking at what our shareholders and guests want.

By the Numbers

 

$1.1 mil.
Total dollars Northlands has invested in the community in 2011

134
Years active as Canada’s oldest agriculture-based society

2,500
Events sponsored by Northlands each year

4 mil.
Annual number of visitors who attend Northlands events

$355 mil.
Direct spending generated by Northlands

522,000
Square footage of Northland’s Edmonton EXPO Centre

As a not-for-profit, we can’t keep anything above our bottom line, so when we generate cash, we put it back into other needy not-for-profits in the community. We also use some to contribute to our own operating needs as we build infrastructure and take care of repairs and maintenance. As a $135 million organization, we’re largely self-sufficient for our day-to-day operating needs. We are, however, blessed with great working relationships and support for all three levels of government, and through their help we are able to do much more than we would otherwise just on our own.

At the end of the day, every dime we generate is given back to the community through either improvements or maintenance of our existing facilities, or as direct donations to the many organizations we serve here in the Edmonton and the northern region of Alberta marketplace.

One of our many partners is Junior Achievement. We’re proud to be the title sponsors for their annual banquet. We also have the opportunity to help mentor students and are actively engaged in what we feel is helping support this incredibly important organization. We’re also a corporate partner for the United Way, and we’ve created a number of programmatic focuses that help raise awareness and money for a number of the things they’re doing. We have also contributed funds, time, and energy to Make-a-Wish, the Edmonton Police Foundation, and many others. We try not to say no to anyone.

Northlands was originally created in 1879 as a networking opportunity for the agricultural world. It was a place to network and share ideas, and was sort of a lightning-rod opportunity for things going on in the community. That’s never changed. The not-for-profit status evolved out of that, and we are still Canada’s oldest agricultural society—and that’s a core piece of our business. While we run these large facilities and events, we continue to actively find ways to partner with and support the agricultural community.

In terms of events, some of the major things we do include K-days (formerly Capital Ex), which is our major summer festival. More than 750,000 people attend that event. We also put on River City Round Up, which is a 10-day festival in November that includes the Canadian Finals Rodeo, Farmfair International, and also has many events that go far beyond the Northlands campus. We’re also working with city leaders and other event organizers to see if we can support adding a winter festival event in 2014 to our coordination plans. We’re constantly looking at how we can reinvent our grounds and facilities to meet community needs. We’re certainly looking at developmental opportunities; we’re always trying to find ways to drive value back into Greater Edmonton.

Northlands fills a gap other entities aren’t able to fill. We often do what the government is unable to do and what the private business sector doesn’t want to do. What we do is very involved. The government would love to do some of these events—like parades or the River City Roundup—but they don’t have the resources. And from a corporate perspective, these events are so involved that corporate entities don’t want to promote or organize them. We fill that gap, and the amount of people who come to our events speaks volumes about what we do. At the end of the day, we are a community-service organization whose core business is “making great memories” for Edmonton and northern Alberta.