Edmonton-area municipalities will co-invest to attract business to the region

· The Pulse

Thirteen Edmonton-area municipalities have signed a memorandum of understanding aimed at improving collaboration to bring more investment to the region.

"This region has been competing against each other and itself forever, and what we really need to do is compete with the wider world," said Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson in a video announcing the initiative. "With this agreement, we're finally going to hunt as a pack."

The Collaborative Economic Development (CED) initiative announced on April 20 will complement the work that Edmonton Global is doing to attract investment to the Edmonton metropolitan region by putting an end to competition between municipalities for new opportunities.

"What this will now allow us to do, if we lean into it, is create a situation where whatever the investor chooses as the best location for them in the region, participating municipalities will benefit from that, rather than having winners and losers, which is the situation that exists today," Iveson told Taproot.

All 13 regional mayors in the Edmonton Metropolitan Region signed a memorandum of understanding committing to work in partnership on developing a new way to work together to attract investment. (YouTube)

Shared investment, shared benefit

The thirteen participating municipalities include the City of Beaumont, Town of Devon, City of Edmonton, City of Fort Saskatchewan, City of Leduc, Leduc County, Town of Morinville, Parkland County, City of Spruce Grove, City of St. Albert, Town of Stony Plain, Strathcona County, and Sturgeon County.

All have agreed in principle to co-invest, including outside their municipal boundaries, to attract business to the Edmonton region and share the revenue generated as a result.

Municipalities would decide on a project-by-project basis whether or not to pool resources to make locations more enticing to a potential investor. If a development goes ahead, municipalities would share in the tax revenue generated (proportional to their original level of investment).

"Currently, property taxes are the primary source of financial benefit, however, this will be further explored in the coming months as partners work together on the model," said Amber Medynski, a spokesperson at the City of Edmonton.

The initiative could lead to special economic zones where municipalities co-invest, such as near the Edmonton International Airport or at Alberta's Industrial Heartland, in order to better compete as a region for new opportunities.

Iveson said the initiative would also open the door to streamlining and harmonizing permitting and regulation procedures to "present a unified front" to potential investors.

Hunting as a pack

"Edmonton Global is doing really important work to sell what we have here in the region," Iveson said. "What CED does is add product development."

Currently when Edmonton Global is working to land an opportunity it usually has to present a disjointed set of options because each municipality that might be interested has different rules for permits, regulations, and costs. Some might even offer incentives. That is confusing for investors and can also slow the process down.

"Predictability, transparency, and speed are three of the most important factors in moving deals from the final investment decision (FID) stage through to being open and in full operation," Edmonton Global CEO Malcolm Bruce told Taproot.

"The work being undertaken across the region will facilitate improvements to this part of the investor journey," he said. "Having partner municipalities take on this regional policy and process work allows Edmonton Global to maintain our focus on global investment attraction."

In a news release, St. Albert Mayor Cathy Heron said the municipalities would "look at opportunities to provide a simplified and faster path for business investment in targeted areas by making the regulatory environment easier to navigate."

The hope is that investors will instead be able to focus on things like proximity to transportation or other required infrastructure without needing to consider where in the region it might be cheaper or easier to setup shop. That should also allow the region to close deals more quickly.

Last piece of the puzzle

"This was the last pillar of the Be Ready, or Be Left Behind report from a few years ago," Iveson said.

That report, published in 2016 by the Advisory Panel on Metro Edmonton's Future, highlighted economic development, regional transit, and land use and infrastructure as critical pillars in enabling the Edmonton region to effectively compete globally.

Be Ready, Or Be Left Behind: Report of the Advisory Panel on Metro Edmonton’s Future

Iveson pointed to Edmonton Global and the newly formed Edmonton Metropolitan Transit Services Commission as an example of the first two pillars. The new CED initiative builds on the Shared Investment for Shared Benefit work that has been underway at the Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board in an effort to tackle the third pillar.

The CED initiative will not result in another new organization, however.

"Resources to complete this initiative will be drawn from administrative staff of the participating municipalities," said Medynski. More details are expected in the coming months.

"This is the last piece of the puzzle in joining arms with our neighbours, such that this region will be unified and co-prosperous together long into the future," Iveson said.