St. Albert's Mayor Cathy Heron says she's optimistic the five municipalities which recently voted to begin the two year withdrawal process from Edmonton Global will reverse course, due in part to the work planned for a newly created committee of mayors.
Edmonton Global is a municipally funded economic development and investment attraction company, created in 2017, that represents 14 municipalities in the region. On Jan. 25, Edmonton Global held a “shareholders meeting” for the mayors of all 14 municipalities in response to more than a third of member municipalities voting to withdraw late last year.
“No matter what comes out of all this in two years, those who were around the table said we need to have those kinds of strategic conversations more frequently,” Heron said after the shareholders meeting. “Because we're just shareholders and not the actual board, we generally just receive information and presentations, not so much give our thoughts and opinions and ask for feedback.”
“We just really had a good heart-to-heart.”
Heron said that since the shareholders meeting technically took place in-camera she couldn't say what the 14 mayors talked about, though she did say that herself and six other mayors have formed a “subcommittee” that will meet irregularly with Edmonton Global's board of directors over the next six months to discuss potential improvements to the company's operations.
“As a working group we're going to sit with the board of directors of [Edmonton Global] to try to talk about ideas for change and opportunities to improve,” she said. “I'm hoping with all this work that we're going to do in the next six months or so... minds will be changed.”
The mayors involved, Heron said, include Morinville's Simon Boersma; Edmonton's Amarjeet Sohi; Strathcona County's Rod Frank; Gibbons' Dan Deck; Fort Saskatchewan's Gale Katchur; and Beaumont's Bill Daneluik.
One idea Heron said she wanted to explore was potentially changing how the annual funding amounts each member municipality provides Edmonton Global are calculated.
Currently, the annual fees charged to Edmonton Global's member municipalities are based on population and tax bases. This year St. Albert will provide Edmonton Global with about $245,000, which is roughly $255,000 less than Strathcona County and likely significantly less than the City of Edmonton, although the Gazette was unable to determine Edmonton's fee.
Heron pointed to the fee structure for the Alberta Industrial Heartland Association — which is funded by and represents Strathcona County, Sturgeon County, Fort Saskatchewan, Lamont County, and Edmonton — as one option Edmonton Global could consider.
“[They have] a different kind of fee structure,” she said of the Industrial Heartland Association. “Those that get more out of investment pay more, so it's balanced a bit more.”
A fee structure like the one used by the Industrial Heartland Association may work in St. Albert's favour, since Heron also said that “there's always been a concern that Edmonton Global has not actually attracted and landed any kind of investment in St. Albert.”
“That's always been a concern,” Heron said, adding, “and I can respond to that with a couple of reasons... for one we don't have any industrial land right now. Even if a big fish like Amazon came to town, we wouldn't be able to take them.”
“The second thing is Edmonton Global is still pretty new. They're still kind of getting their brand out there on the international stage and I think we're just starting to see the results of that now.”
As the Gazette reported last month, many St. Albert city councillors are either in favour of St. Albert withdrawing from Edmonton Global as well, or would like to see Edmonton Global continue on but are worried that so many municipalities withdrawing from the endeavour could put the company's future in jeopardy.
Heron said she thinks municipal councils throughout the region have two choices: stick with Edmonton Global and work collaboratively to attract investment throughout the region, or revert to relying on municipal economic development departments that will need to compete against each other.
“If you have 14 different economic development departments fighting for that, you have a race to the bottom,” Heron said. “When you attract regionally... it makes a lot of sense that rising tide raises all ships.”
The Gazette's interview requests for the other six mayors on the new committee went unanswered.
Edmonton Global representatives are scheduled to meet with St. Albert city council on Feb. 6 for an annual presentation on the company's work.