New department needed for future economic growth

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So, after the rather sudden demise of Canmore Business and Tourism, 2018 will see creation of a Town department with the mandate of economic development.

While there are those who tire of hearing about increases to municipal staffing levels, positions paid for with tax dollars, there’s little doubt an economic development department is much needed in town.

In the past, economic development was included in CBT’s mandate, with funds coming from the Town, but, with a focus on tourism, little outside of that sphere was dealt with.

Under a current $320,000 plan to create said department, though, is a directive for it to support arts and events with the delivery of cultural and artistic programming.

We would advise caution in this approach, however, and suggest that little leeway be given to anything that did not have a very distinct economic development basis.

For one thing, the Town already has artsPlace, with its mandate of arts and culture programming. For another, it might prove too easy to fall back on what’s proven – tourism – rather than new endeavours.

Many in this valley would suggest that tourism is already maxed out, with many also dreading how increased tourism will continue to make our towns seem less and less like communities and more and more simply locations for others to enjoy.

What is needed is a change in thinking, much like the Bow Valley Chamber of Commerce’s push to attract high-tech jobs that require little in the way of large buildings and infrastructure.

Having identified high-paying, high-tech jobs and new businesses as worthy of pursuit by the chamber (ie: a form of Silicon Valley north), focus needs to be elsewhere with some outside the tourism box thinking.

Of course, as with almost any conversation in our valley, it’s likely that little in the way of economic development will occur without simultaneous and ongoing creation of affordable housing.

In the case of the chamber’s pursuit of high-tech jobs, part of the thinking is that these will be jobs boasting salary levels commensurate with the cost of living in the Bow Valley.

So yes, six-figure salaries for programmers, software developers and other high-tech jobs would fit nicely into the Rocky Mountain lifestyle and cost of living, what would cause a small manufacturing operation, say, with tradespeople of various stages of apprenticeship, to locate in the valley?

Just as many current, small, tourism-related or mom and pop operations in particular have difficulty in retaining staff due to the high cost of living here (along with businesses of every size), what would be the draw to launch an operation where salaries would fall into the same range?

Business tax holidays? Towns buying up land to make cut-rate commercial space available? It happens …

And let’s not forget that the demise of Canmore Business and Tourism was a result of cessation of funding from the accommodation industry. The bulk of CBT’s funding came via a destination marketing fund supported by only a percentage of accommodation providers. As those funds dried out, CBT’s demise was ensured.

No, much like both of our towns have taken it upon themselves to create affordable housing, our councils and administrations will have to have a hand in future economic development – at taxpayers’ expense or not.

A community has to be about more than offering high-priced accommodations for those who live outside the community. A community must welcome everyone who lives within it, regardless of their salary.

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Rocky Mountain Outlook