Economic development report to appear before council on Monday
Several elements working in St. Albert's favour
By: Viola Pruss
| Posted: Saturday, Oct 13, 2012 06:00 am
St. Albert’s economic development report carries high expectations for the city’s future non-residential development.
The report is waiting for approval by council on Monday but Guy Boston presented some of his ideas at Wednesday’s chamber of commerce business lunch.
Boston, executive director for the economic development department, said St. Albert historically relied on residential taxes, with more than 88 per cent of the city’s tax revenue derived from residential land use.
In the long run, he said rising prices, residential growth and a lack of non-residential tax revenue will make taxes unsustainable for residents.
While some industrial development took place in recent years, Boston said St. Albert lacked growth in its industry. The city’s total employment was at 18,000 jobs, but the majority of these jobs were part-time and many people worked in other communities.
“We are not growing as fast as others in the region,” he said.
“Our market share is quite low. In reality, there should be a much steeper growth.”
He said the report was designed to help the city move its tax burden to a healthy ratio of 80 per cent residential tax revenue and 20 per cent commercial tax revenue. Among its key elements are new investment attraction, local business expansion and promoting St. Albert as a business friendly community.
The report is now available on St. Albert’s city council website. Among its 17 points, it lists acquisition of land, industry sector planning, expansion and tourism initiatives and collaboration among local groups, as well as marketing and branding plans as important aspects to the city’s development.
In a later interview, Boston used branding as an example that could bring new businesses to the community. He said the city should use its focus on botanical arts to attract new industry, calling on the city as a clean, friendly, and safe place to live and work.
“Businesses are interested, not because they are related to our brand but because of what we offer as a community as a whole was interesting to them,” he said.
Having a team of economic developers to market St. Albert to the rest of the province is key to the city’s success, said Ivan Mayer, president of CrackMaster Distributors and a member of St. Albert’s economic development advisory committee.
With land prices in Edmonton on the rise, Mayer added developers were starting to look at St. Albert to buy new land.
“I talked to developers and their thoughts are that there is no more cheap land left. This is starting to play in our favour,” he said.
Mayer said St. Albert was still a long way from achieving its goal of an 80 per cent residential, and 20 per cent commercial tax split. Even reaching a goal of 85-15 in the next five years would be huge, he said.
“We don’t have enough land to get to the 80-20,” he said.
“The land that we have right now will probably get us 85-15 but the mayor already made a comment that we should maybe consider the next acquisition of land.”
Mike Howes, owner of DKC Sparklean in St. Albert, said the city needed to double the amount of its businesses to reach the 80-20 ratio. He said space was available – it only had to make use of the 700 acres of employment land waiting to be approved by council for commercial use.
Currently, the land is under the ownership of 12 different property owners who acquired it for residential use.
“Naming it the employment land and relaxing the bylaws so that more businesses are allowed to participate in buying land will make it easier to attract businesses,” Howes said.
While the 700 acres of employment land would equal 10 to 12 Walmart stores, Boston said the department’s focus was not to bring in big box stores and heavy industry but smaller businesses that would attract others in return.
“I can see a wide spectrum of businesses. It could be a warehouse; it could be a high tech operation. It could be any number of things,” Boston said.
The lunch also saw the election of the incoming board and executive committee for the St. Albert & District Chamber of Commerce. Come 2013, Lynn Carolei will take the place of Darel Baker as chair of the chamber. Paul Quantz is becoming first vice chair and Barry Bailey second vice chair. Paulette Godin-Donovan was elected as secretary, and Ken Macrae as treasurer.
Newly elected board members are Kendell Bousquet, Craig Pilgrim, Jillian Creech, Mathew Potter, Douglas Lamb and Terence Mahoney.