Earlier this year, UDI – Edmonton Metro launched State of Growth, a report that provides a snapshot of land development trends and demographic profiles throughout the entire region. The report highlights social and economic strengths that have helped to attract jobs, people, and talent to the region – sharing what has worked well for municipalities, and where improvements can be made.
“Specifically, the report notes how municipalities are seeking to diversify the developments in their communities by welcoming both industrial and non-residential development,” said Mark Tanasichuk, Vice President of TAG Developments.
On November 16, Tanasichuk convened Mayor Tanni Doblanko (Leduc County), Mayor Rod Frank (Strathcona County), and Mayor Allan Gamble (Parkland County), to discuss how their municipality’s tools, policies, and programs are being leveraged to support investment interest and growth.
“When we zero in on these mayors and their three municipalities, they collectively steward over 6,000 square kilometres of land, and surround the City of Edmonton on the west, south, and east sides,” Tanasichuk said during his opening remarks.
“This represents 63.6% of land in the region, placing Leduc County, Parkland County, and Strathcona County at the forefront of many regional conversations and city building initiatives.”
He started off the conversation by asking each mayor about why they are pursuing industrial and non-residential development.
“They generate 10 to 20 times more revenue than residential and support the delivery of municipal services like transit, policing, and parks,” said Mayor Gamble. “Ultimately, residential does not pay the bills – so we need to diversify our development portfolio or run the risk of losing out on much-needed injections of funding.”
Mayor Frank noted how they create Complete Communities and nurture a strong local economy that can provide thousands of jobs for people.
To welcome these types of investments, Mayor Doblanko said that her municipality focuses on the four Ts – time, talent, taxes, and transportation.
“We need our regulatory processes and approval processes to be quick. We need to leverage the 1.4 million educated Albertans to work in our communities. We need to keep our taxes low – and Leduc County is the lowest in the region. And we need to leverage our location for sectors like transportation logistics and warehousing.”
Tanasichuk shared with the panellists that businesses are less sticky than residents when it comes to approximate location to where they need to be. Given this, and the fact that businesses do the math and look to operate in a municipality with the lowest costs to their business, he said that municipalities need to address their processes for development and building permits, approval timelines, and regulations to remain competitive.
“Municipalities need to move at the speed of business,” added Mayor Gamble. He pointed to three opportunities for his municipality and the region – create a business-friendly culture within council and administration, nurture investor confidence, and increase the availability of shovel-ready land.
He said that Parkland County developed a concierge program to support businesses with their development applications and site selection. Similarly, Strathcona County has a dedicated economic development team that proactively seeks out businesses.
Mayor Doblanko complemented Leduc County’s administration in refining their land use bylaws and area structure plans and processes to give them a competitive advantage.
“We’re listening to developers and trying to adjust accordingly,” she said. “When Amazon was looking to invest here, it was an all-hands-on-deck approach.”
She said that Leduc County approved Amazon’s grading plan in six days, which Amazon told her would have taken 30 months in the Greater Toronto Area.
Near the end of the conversation, Tanasichuk asked each panellist, “How do we set the table for economic investment and further development?”
Their collective answer? Collaboration.
“Regional collaboration is key,” said Mayor Frank. “While we should be thinking about what makes each of our municipalities unique and competitive, it is important to not lose sight of the bigger picture – growing the economic pie regionally – so we collectively prosper.”
And while they see each other and their municipalities as competitors in a sense, Mayor Doblanko noted, “The wins that are experienced across the region are a win for all of us – they keep us sharp, and we no doubt experience natural spinoffs.”
5 Key Takeaways
- Diversification is key. Industrial and non-residential development bring in significant tax revenue and support the delivery of meaningful municipal services.
- Regional collaboration is key. Celebrate the wins that occur in every municipality, as they provide spinoff impacts for the entire region.
- Four Ts. Time, talent, taxes, and transportation are critical lenses to take when trying to attract industrial development.
- Creating a business-friendly municipal environment. Municipalities should ensure that their regulatory tools and processes are streamlined and quick to enable speed-to-market. Offering low tax rates and the availability of shovel-ready land can help to catalyze massive economic growth.
- Friendly competition is good. Competition supports innovation and can result in spinoffs felt across the region.