The resource-based, northern communities of Hinton and Grande Cache, located on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains in Alberta, have each identified a crucial need to diversify their traditional economies and social structures. They recognise that significant gaps exist in their knowledge and understanding of their challenges, which prevent them from achieving their long term goals. The current economic state of these municipalities is strong but their historic, resource-dependent economies are considered to be unsustainable for the long term. Accordingly, they have taken a proactive step in attempting to leverage the natural and economic benefits of the area to work toward becoming more socially, economically, and environmentally (SEE) sustainable, while providing attractive and advantageous locations in order to become more competitive in attracting new residents and entrepreneurs.
Both communities are subject to the fluctuations of the resource industry sector's business cycles (so called "boom and bust"), while the dominance of the resource-based employers (forestry, coal, oil and gas), who provide highly paid, shift work with little demand for postsecondary education, tend to dampen economic diversity and entrepreneurism. Aside from their stated need for commercial diversification, these communities believe they have, within their populations, a pool of specialized knowledge and experience to mine a wide range of entrepreneurial innovation.
There is an acknowledged need to enhance the cultural component of these communities, with greater emphasis on arts and creative culture, embracing Aboriginal communities and welcoming a greater diversity of immigrants. The appeal of work opportunities and good wages has attracted people from many different countries, and from across Canada, creating a much greater mix of cultures. Both municipalities seek to enhance this wider cultural diversity, along with its greater population base of multi-generational families, to enhance their appeal as family friendly, diverse and growing communities.
Although these two municipalities are separated by 150 kilometres of mountain highway, they share these and other common challenges related to their small size and remote locations: limited medical services, education programs, and affordable housing. With funding assistance from the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association, the municipalities individually undertook studies and surveys to get a sense of their residents' long-term sustainability priorities. Both communities have published the findings from their studies; they provide the foundation for this initiative. Armed with this data, the communities approached Athabasca University to further investigate the best sustainability options in order to develop a clear plan for achieving their objectives