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    Categories: Local News

City eyes business incubation strategy

What should the city’s role be in growing entrepreneurship in St. Albert? A proposed new city strategy aims to help businesses put down roots here.

Council unanimously accepted a draft version of a policy document, entitled “Economic Gardening Framework,” at the May 23 meeting.

The policy sets out how the city would work in tandem with other local business groups to develop local businesses and attract new businesses to the city, rather than duplicating their efforts.

“There’s no overlap,” business attraction manager Curtis Bauer told council. “The intent here is just to be complementary, to not duplicate what somebody else is already doing well.”

He said organizations such as the St. Albert & District Chamber of Commerce and the Northern Alberta Business Incubator (NABI) had provided feedback on the framework, and were supportive of what the city aims to do.

“The focus is on a business-friendly ecosystem that promotes entrepreneurial activity,” he said.

Council will provide feedback on the report, which will come back for further revisions at a later date and, according to the report, an implementation plan will come to the next council by the end of the year.

“I’m looking forward to the implementation plan,” Coun. Sheena Hughes said. “The devil is in the details of how you’re going to accomplish that goal.”

The strategy outlines four basic phases of business formation – idea generation, incubation, accelerated growth and retention – and outlines specific strategies the city could employ to support entrepreneurs at each phase.

To support idea generation, for example, the city would put together an information package for would-be entrepreneurs, host annual events to encourage entrepreneurial creativity and establish an online community to support innovation.

Retention strategies would include working directly with growing businesses to encourage them to locate or stay within St. Albert and to keep track of available commercial and industrial property for lease in the city.

With respect to incubation, strategies would focus on identifying and advertising of business-incubation space, where small businesses can get short-term leases of small spaces. It would also serve to reach out to home-based businesses, encouraging them to scale up if possible.

This addresses one of the needs raised by resident Ufuama Otabala-Fregene – who runs a business and a non-profit organization based out of her home – when she spoke to council about the report. She said she hoped whatever incubation strategy is adopted that it recognizes support for non-traditional businesses, especially home-based ones.

“I want the city to pass a motion that acknowledges … and promotes non-standard business models including employee owned cooperatives and non-profits,” she said.

While council unanimously approved the idea of moving forward with this kind of an incubation strategy, to work alongside existing resources, there were some concerns about what it’s called.

Coun. Tim Osborne said he though the idea of “economic gardening” was a bit of a stretch.

“I think there’s a limit to how far we can push our branding, and I think we’ve reached it,” he said. “When I first saw the phrase I wasn’t sure what it meant.”

Mayor Nolan Crouse said the city should be careful about establishing “frameworks” or “strategies” as a kind of governance document without clearly articulating what those terms means.

“We just need to standardize our terminology so we don’t have another kind of sister document to the many master plans we have,” he said.

Doug Neuman: