Explainer: Edmonton's complex regional cooperation landscape

· The Pulse

Several of the five municipalities that have voted to leave Edmonton Global say they remain committed to regional economic development — but will do so through other organizations.

So, what are the other economic development organizations that serve the Edmonton region? How does their work differ from one another? What are their results? And what do municipalities say about them? Taproot endeavoured to take a regional look to answer those questions.

In December, Strathcona County signalled its intent to leave Edmonton Global (though the process takes two years). Mayor Rod Frank and council cited budgetary restrictions for the decision. Edmonton Global's 14 members are responsible for $5 million in fees per year. Member contributions are determined by population and tax base. Soon after Strathcona County's decision made news, Sturgeon County, Parkland County, Devon, and The City of Fort Saskatchewan followed suit.

Edmonton Global is currently on a listening tour to find ways to improve the situation. It involves regularly scheduled appearances before member councils, as well as hiring two consultants, and a self-organized subcommittee of members to improve relations.

Some say cooperating as a region is just inherently tough. In November, Robert W. Murray and Chris Steele, both with financial ties to Edmonton Global, wrote in a Postmedia op-ed that the concept is proven but will take time. "In Alberta, regional collaboration remains an idea still in its infancy," they wrote. In December, Simon Boersma, Morinville mayor and shareholder chair for Edmonton Global, told CBC much the same thing. "Any time that we look at organizations that encompass more than two or three people, it's like living in a family trying to figure out how that is going to affect you," Boersma said.

Frank, meanwhile, said Strathcona County would continue its regional development work through the Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board, Edmonton International Airport, the Edmonton Region Hydrogen HUB, and Alberta's Industrial Heartland Association. He also said the county may reconsider its exit from Edmonton Global before the 2025 deadline.

A central idea behind regional economic development organizations is about savings. While each municipality can work on its own economic development, participating in collective organizations that promote the overall region means smaller municipalities have a larger reach with fewer dollars than they otherwise would.

Edmonton Global's mandate is to attract foreign investment into the region. Though other regional development organizations work to build collective economic opportunity, none focus primarily on international companies.

To map Edmonton's regional development landscape, Taproot reached out to the Heartland Association, the Edmonton Regional Innovation Network, the EMRB, and the HUB, as well as several municipalities. Most responded to questions, though some declined to respond and others did not answer all inquiries by press time.

A crowd of people on stage at a convention.

Sturgeon County mayor Alanna Hnatiw, who chairs the Edmonton Region Hydrogen HUB, announced a 5,000 hydrogen-vehicle challenge on stage at the 2023 Canadian Hydrogen Convention. She cites the HUB as a way Sturgeon County will continue regional collaboration if it exits Edmonton Global. (LinkedIn)

Here are the main economic development organizations serving the Edmonton region:

Alberta's Industrial Heartland Association

Founded: 1999

HQ: Fort Saskatchewan

Members: City of Fort Saskatchewan, Lamont County, Strathcona County, Sturgeon County, and Edmonton. Associate members, who do not have voting rights in the organization, include the towns of Bruderheim, Gibbons, and Redwater.

Dues: $212,000 from Edmonton annually since 2010; "approximately" $200,000 from Lamont County in 2023. (Municipalities provided these figures. The association did not disclose any financial information.)

Goal: To drive investment for a 582 square kilometre region comprising the members listed above, particularly for industrial petrochemical and energy companies.

Numbers: The association has generated more than $45 billion in existing capital investment, executive director Mark Plamondon told Taproot in an email. The association's website says more than 40 companies are based in the Heartland. They are responsible for 30,000 direct and indirect jobs, according to an association video.

One more thing: The association uses some of its member dues to fund the Edmonton Region Hydrogen HUB.

Edmonton Regional Innovation Network

Founded: 2006 in its original format; 2019 in its new, "much different" format, manager Dani Moffatt told Taproot via email.

HQ: Edmonton

Members: A mix of municipalities, post-secondary institutions, investors, and small businesses. The organization's geographical focus is the Edmonton region, plus Athabasca.

Dues: None.

Goal: To grow the innovation economy, primarily through funding opportunities for service providers, plus resource navigation for other organizations supporting innovation.

Numbers: The organization cites a 20% monthly recurring revenue increase for Swift Charge, after completing its Experts on Demand program, as an example of results.

One more thing: ERIN is funded by Alberta Innovates.

Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board

Founded: 2008 as the Capital Region Board, comprising 23 municipalities; 2017 as the EMRB, with 13 municipalities.

HQ: Edmonton

Members: Beaumont, Devon, Edmonton, Fort Saskatchewan, City of Leduc, Leduc County, Morinville, Parkland County, St. Albert, Spruce Grove, Stony Plain, Strathcona County, and Sturgeon County.

Dues: Approximately $1.9 million annually, split between members based on a cost-sharing formula.

Goal: To create responsible and sustainable regional growth, as guided by a plan called Re-imagine. Plan. Build.

Numbers: The EMRB cites $13 million in annual savings on construction and maintenance, at least $6.5 million in savings from consolidating inter-municipal development plan reviews, $460 million in CO2 reductions through integrated land-use planning, and $94 million in extra GDP via the Integrated Regional Transportation Master Plan.

One more thing: Membership isn't voluntary but is instead required by the provincial government. But there is precedent for municipalities to exit (as Sturgeon County once considered doing) in the example of Wheatland County's successful appeal to depart the Calgary Metropolitan Region Board.

Edmonton Region Hydrogen HUB

Founded: 2021

HQ: None.

Members: Sturgeon County, Strathcona County, the City of Fort Saskatchewan, Lamont County, and Edmonton, plus non-municipal stakeholders.

Dues: $200,000 split between each member municipality via their contributions to Alberta's Industrial Heartland Association. Plus, $150,000 per year from the province and $200,000 per year from the federal government.

Goal: To grow the region's hydrogen economy and ensure long-term competitiveness "as the world shifts towards a low-carbon future," a spokesperson told Taproot in an email.

Numbers: The organization cites 25 projects related to the production, distribution, and end use of hydrogen underway, 13 "major" reports published, and more than 4,000 stakeholders engaged.

One more thing: The HUB launched a five-year, 5,000 hydrogen-vehicle challenge in 2023 alongside collaborators including Edmonton Global.