Canmore approves municipal economic development office

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Canmore’s elected officials have finally buckled down and are taking economic development in the community seriously with the creation of a municipal department to undertake that responsibility.

Council voted unanimously Tuesday (Dec. 20) at its last meeting of 2017 to establish an in-house economic development department and Chief Administrative Officer Lisa de Soto presented the department’s budget and business plan.

While in the past economic development services were contracted out to Canmore Business and Tourism, when that organization disbanded in 2016, the question of how that work would continue remained uncertain until this week.

“We do have a dedicated source of funding for economic development,” de Soto said, referring to business registry fees, which are collected and put into reserves for that purpose.

“Through 2017, council decided at budget deliberations for this year we would not specifically fund an economic development service provider, but rather use the business registry revenue to fund individual economic development-based initiatives throughout the year.

“That gave us time to evaluate our approach going forward.”

That included: $200,000 for the Olympic bid process, $60,000 for a broadband master plan, $10,000 for online taxi driver training, and $25,000 for Innovate Canmore, a project being undertaken by the Chamber of Commerce.

The recommendation by administration after consulting with organizations like the hotel association and downtown business association, as well as evaluating other municipal economic development delivery, was to create a new position within the corporate structure.

The budget implication is $320,000 for 2018 – with $200,000 for salaries, wages and benefits, $75,000 for administration and general services, $25,000 for contracted services and $20,000 contribution for reserves.

While Tourism Canmore Kananaskis has risen from the ashes of CBT, de Soto said it is specifically focused on tourism, and research into 17 other municipalities in Alberta and B.C. found that all but one had in-house resources dedicated to that function.

The core functions of the new department would be to work with industry leaders in the community and partner organizations to coordinate activities, support business retention and expansion and business innovation and diversification.

The department would also support arts and events with the delivery of cultural and artistic programming.

The new role already has a lot on a to-do list for 2018 with establishing the department, connecting with industry and stakeholders, creating an online presence for economic development, developing a three-year budget, and working with the Olympic bid corporation.

“Administration would hire an economic development officer and then we would work with the new person to evaluate the needs for the skill levels and support staff within that department,” de Soto said.

There is also a suggestion the new position would move toward creating a new economic development strategic plan, to update or replace the 2009 one accepted by council at the time.

“It may just need a refresh,” she said.

Mayor John Borrowman was part of the committee that created the sustainable economic development and tourism strategy and said he is supportive of bringing this function in house.

“I have been advocating for bringing economic development in-house myself for some time,” said the mayor. “There are a whole number of suggestions (in that strategy) that were never really acted upon for reasons like no budget or staff time. I could see an in-house economic development officer taking direction from the CAO and doing more focused work on a number of those possibilities.”

The staff report referenced a review conducted by the outgoing economic development officer with CBT with input on how to move the issue forward as a community and it was clear that for Canmore to be an attractive location for new business, it needs to find solutions to the barrier of affordable housing.

That has been top of mind for Councillor Joanna McCallum, who said she has been hesitant to support economic development or diversification in the community without anywhere for employees to live.

“I think it is no secret I have not been super keen to encourage economic development in Canmore because we are having a hard time housing and accommodating people in our community,” she said. “Asking more people to come here seems counter intuitive.

“But I realize that regardless of the 2026 Olympics, we have to work on economic development and, more importantly, quite frankly, economic diversification, so I see this role as speaking to that issue … and I am very much in support of this motion.”

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