City needs to start sharing information
| Posted: Wednesday, Oct 17, 2012 03:16 pm
It is difficult to evaluate how successful St. Albertís economic development pursuits are when all we see are high-level plans along with non-descript assurances that there is increased interest in the development community.
In Monday nightís presentation of the economic development plan to city council, all Guy Boston, the executive director of economic development, said publicly was that there has been some interest or growing interest in St. Albert recently. Such comments have been making the rounds for a few weeks at city council, but the city has been loathe to be more specific.
That might be a necessity for now, but it is growing increasingly important for St. Albert to know more about what kind of fruits we are reaping from this increased focus on expanding the cityís non-residential tax base. The plan, as presented, is comprehensive and will take St. Albert in the direction it needs to go. From following through on reviews of off-site levies and physician attraction to evaluating how easy it is to get around St. Albert, the plan contains 17 very broad areas of focus.
That is not to say we should be seeing instant results ó shifting gears as council has asked administration to do in heightening its focus on economic development takes time to see benefit, and even a full build out of the 700 acres of land redesignated by council wonít get us to the long-desired 80/20 split of residential to non-residential tax income. Indeed, some would argue the employment lands are simply pie in the sky ó it could take decades before the 12 landowners agree to sell their land for non-residential use.
But economic development is increasingly asking for more resources. Already the fledgling city division has added several staff members and Boston made no secret of the fact he would be asking for more when budget time rolls around. But even in that, council and administration danced around what exactly it needs. The development plan will require more resources ó that much is obvious just from reading it. But how much money will be invested before the city can get more specific information and exactly who is interested in what?
It is good to hear that there is growing interest in St. Albert and that some developers have said they have been pleased with the cityís quick response to its inquiries. But what we donít know anything about are names and faces ó we donít know who is asking, how many people are asking, what they are asking about and what the proposed timelines are. We are being asked to take a lot of information on faith with no means to independently measure if we are making any real progress.
Even if negotiations donít allow for specifics, why canít the city break some more general information out to at least show what it is pursuing? How many trade shows have we been going to? What sectors have we been targeting. What categories of business have expressed interest and how much land are they looking for?
High-level plans have their place, but so too do real numbers. We need more than administrationís or councilís second- and third-hand information to know we are spending money in the right place. We are trusting the city with what will ultimately determine St. Albertís fate as an economically diverse community or a highly-taxed suburb. It is this decadeís defining moment for the city ó the public deserves to know how well we are or are not doing.