St. Albert working to change its reputation as business unfriendly
By: Viola Pruss
| Posted: Saturday, Sep 29, 2012 06:00 am
St. Albert is shedding its reputation as an unfriendly place to do business.
That was the message conveyed by city manager Patrick Draper at the Big Issue Roundtable organized by the St. Albert and District Chamber of Commerce on Thursday.
While conveying the message that the city is taking steps to expand light industrial development, Draper emphasized that it’s time to clean up the reputation that the city is not business friendly.
The meeting left many chamber members and the community feeling positive that changes are happening, said chamber chair Darel Baker.
“People need to know that that is what is taking place and that St. Albert is a great place to do business and becoming an easier place to make business,” he said.
The city recently created a new position of executive director of economic development and appointed former planning and engineering general manager Guy Boston. With this structural change in place, it’s now time to mark St. Albert’s partnership with businesses to raise the city’s profile, Draper said.
To address this need, he’s formulated an economic development work plan that will focus on innovation, investment and expansion strategies for St. Albert’s economy. This plan will be formally announced at city council’s Oct. 15 meeting,
“Investment attraction is about bringing new money and new investment into the city,” Draper said.
So far, the moves that Draper has made have resonated with the business community, Baker said.
“The city manager had made it clear that the economic development director is the most important role in the city. So when you hear someone saying that’s the most important role, you see all different things lined up around that,” he said.
On Monday council unanimously approved first reading of an amendment to the municipal development plan, which will designate 700 acres of land on the city’s western boundary as “employment lands” which means they’re earmarked for light industrial development. The changes still have to go to the Capital Region Board for approval before returning for second and third readings.
Opening more land for business is a step in the right direction, Baker said.
Draper said business development is necessary to create more jobs in the community. A lot of youth leave St. Albert to find work elsewhere and many residents commute to Edmonton due to a lack of local opportunities.
“We also have a high ratio of home-based businesses. It’s wonderful that someone can start a home-based business, but not from a city’s perspective of collecting revenue to provide services,” he said.
“Clearly there is a need for us to provide more opportunities for residents to live and work in the community.”
In the past, St. Albert saw some modest growth in its north and south commercial and industrial sites, but the city has not kept pace with the rest of the capital region, Draper said.
Currently, the city generates about 88 percent of its tax revenue from residential sites. In the next 25 years, St. Albert’s population is expected to grow from 60,000 to 90,000. Draper said expanded light industrial development is necessary to continue the high standard of living that St. Albert residents expect, without having to raise their taxes.
“For a city to be healthy from a financial standpoint you want to see this ratio in an 80 to 20 ratio, or even get it to a 25 per cent (of commercial tax revenue),” he said.
Mike Howes, owner of DKC Sparklean in St. Albert, said he was one of many business owners who were denied a spot in Campbell Business Park in 2007. At the time, his business did not fit the zoning restrictions placed on the land.
Relaxing the zoning laws and rezoning residential land to allow business could solve a great deal of what made St. Albert seem undesirable for business owners, he said. But in the end, it still comes down to convincing landowners to sell their land for commercial use.
“The landowners that are holding these parcels want to sell it as residential, thinking there’s more money and it’s rightfully so,” Howes said. “At the same time, we need more business taxes … to support us to be sustainable.”