Sangudo’s saga: how’d you like your steak?

Mar 12th, 2015 | By FCT

In 2010, like so many small towns in Alberta whipsawed by change and outmigration for the bright lights of Calgary and Edmonton, the small town teetered on the abyss, with sheets of 4×8 plywood boarding up over half the storefronts downtown: Sangudo, Alberta, population 325, was ready for economic life-support. Sangudo, some 90km northwest of Edmonton, had been hemorrhaging businesses for a decade; real estate prices were through the floor.

Online retailers and nearby big box stores had been a one-two punch that had Sangudo on the ropes. In 2006, the local school board decided to close the local high school…and that set a few hardy souls thinking about the future of their town. The townsfolk fought and won and kept the high school open: it was the defining “it’s up to us” moment, as one of the activists, Shelly Starman, recalled in a documentary some years later.

A citizens’ group, a co-op in mind, saw the writing on the wall; they convened to blue-sky opportunities, from carwashes to auto parts supply. Nothing stuck. And then town abattoir’s elderly owner announced his retirement and the imminent closing of his business.

That was the last straw for the citizens’ group: they formed an “opportunity development” investment co-op to buy the abattoir, raised $220,000 from 22 members, and (the biggest piece of the puzzle) induced two local residents who’d left Sangudo for greener pastures—a trained butcher and a savvy business analyst—back to town to run the operation, and held their breath. “Return on investment wasn’t the real focus,” recalls SODC board member Dan Ohler. “It’s about people working together to recreate our community, as a community.”

Guess what?

Here’s the headline, five years and a ton of hard work later: Sangudo Custom Meats, self-proclaimed purveyors of the “greatest meat on the planet,” its business plan balancing a farmer’s quick wit and a common-sense but innovative eye on growth, roared out of nowhere (actually 49th St, on the outskirts of Sangudo) to stake a claim to the best custom abattoir in a province where beef is taken very, very seriously.

Powered by word of mouth from the original investors, the abattoir has hit double-digit growth some years but the key piece is that Sangudo now has a business model that’s keeping its local economy local—and thriving. “Money isn’t the problem,” notes Ohler. “I’d bet there’s millions in local communities, sitting in RRSPs, bonds and the New York and Toronto stock exchanges. It was about leveraging those dollars and bringing them back into our community.”

The upshot for Sangudo real estate is stable prices, an influx of new families to grow the tax base a little…and certainly new jobs at the abattoir, high-skill/high-pay trades jobs with people hard at work ethically turning local cattle and pigs into superb entrees for Alberta’s high-end restaurants near and far—and SODC then turned around and bought the old Sangudo Legion Hall, renovating the once-depressing space into a thriving restaurant. More jobs, more cash moving through town—and staying there.

And word is, the steaks there are pretty darn good.

Sangudo isn’t alone; co-ops in other small Alberta towns are recirculating local wealth to build community value—rehabbing the local real estate market to boot—and demonstrating that a solid investment is where you find it: right on your doorstep.

First of two parts: next up—does the Sangudo model work in a near-derelict US inner city? Check out part two in our series, Cleveland in the EXPERT/ease series on growing real estate value by investing right in your
own backyard.

Categories: EXPERT/ease, Real Estate
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