Morinville council has reversed course on plans to leave Edmonton Global after hearing it would cost more than $250,000 a year to replace the group’s services.
Town council voted 4-3 (councillors Rebecca Balanko, Stephen Dafoe, and Scott Richardson opposed) during its Sept. 13 meeting to cancel its 2020 motion to withdraw as a shareholder from Edmonton Global.
Edmonton Global is an offshoot of the Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board which seeks to draw foreign investment to the greater Edmonton region. Morinville is one of its founding members.
In December 2020, Morinville council voted unanimously to start a two-year process to withdraw from Edmonton Global. Council and administration argued that the town had seen little benefit from the group and would be better off using its membership money on local projects.
Edmonton Global officials spoke to council in July about how their group had promoted Morinville abroad and helped bring $1.9 billion in investment to the Edmonton region in three years.
At the Sept. 13 council meeting, acting town CAO Michelle Hay said Edmonton Global offers Morinville economies of scale when it comes to drawing foreign investment.
“This type of promotion is a long game,” she said, and it is not realistic to expect results in just a few years.
Town planning and economic development manager T.J. Auer said Morinville would need a couple of years to complete an industrial land study before it could figure out what spin-off companies it could attract through Edmonton Global. The town would have no foreign direct investment strategy if it left the group and would have to hire two people and spend about $250,000 a year on travel to create such a strategy.
“Travelling to Dubai is not an affordable expense,” Auer said.
Edmonton Global gives Morinville a broader reach and access to the expertise needed to draw significant investments like new hydrogen plants to this region, Mayor Simon Boersma said in an interview. Even if said plant landed elsewhere in the Edmonton region, Morinville would still benefit from it as it could draw many of the smaller companies that follow such mega-projects.
“There’s only so much that can be done regionally,” Boersma said, and Edmonton Global allows the town to cast a wider net for investment.
Auer estimated that continued membership in Edmonton Global would cost the town about $40,000 a year.
Richardson said that is a substantial amount of money which would be better used to support local businesses.
“This is really pie-in-the-sky for us right now,” he said, noting how the town didn’t even have the information on industrial lands needed to draw international investment.
Balanko said it was made quite clear to council last term that Edmonton Global was not a good investment.
“I’m concerned that we’re putting a lot of taxpayer dollars into a ‘what if’ at this point,” she said.
Dafoe said the town needs economic development but would be better off using this money to support local developers.
“Edmonton Global did not get us a McDonalds,” he said, referring to one recent new Morinville business.
“Developers got us that.”
Coun. Jenn Anheliger said council has made investment attraction a priority, and it is clear the town can not do so affordably without Edmonton Global.
Administration is set to write a letter to Edmonton Global to rescind its request to leave the group.