Economic development is vital to Calgary’s future

It is no secret that times are tough in Calgary.

Every day, the price differential on our oil seems to get steeper. Our unemployment level is stubbornly high at more than eight per cent – the second highest in all of Canada. The downtown vacancy rate approaching 30 per cent has resulted in a tax revenue shortfall for the City of approximately $89 million.

As Council debates the budget this week, we are constantly asking ourselves, “How can we provide better value for the tax dollars we receive from Calgarians?”

Throughout this budget week, there has been much discussion about the services that the City of Calgary provides and the costs associated with them.

Outside of “essential services”, which include the Calgary Fire Department, the Calgary Police Service and the transportation department, the City has civic partners like Calgary Economic Development, which are funded in part by the City.

In this budget cycle, some have specifically called that Calgary Economic Development’s budget be slashed. Given the economic state our City finds itself in, I believe that now is not the time be doing so.

Economic development agencies like Calgary Economic Development are common in cities across Canada. Edmonton, Vancouver, and Toronto all have a similar organization.  Let me be clear, in today’s economy, these cities are our direct competition for jobs and talent. Calgary must now compete for talent and employers more aggressively and in different ways than ever before.

This begs the question: what does Calgary Economic Development do? The organization's mandate is to achieve economic success, embrace shared prosperity, and build a strong community for Calgary. In practice, the organization attracts new businesses to come and invest in Calgary, while retaining existing business. It is also vast resource for local businesses of all sizes, providing support for workforce management, startups and expansion.

In today’s economy, Calgary Economic Development is actively pursuing new areas of business diversification. So far in 2018, 77 companies were attracted, retained or expanded in part due to its efforts. This has resulted in creation of more than 3,400 direct and 3,100 indirect jobs.

Moreover, it is the organization that will oversee the execution and implementation of the City’s economic strategy.

Another role of Calgary Economic Development is to oversee the City’s $100 million Opportunity Calgary Investment Fund. At the request of several hundred business and industry leaders, this Fund was created by City Council to directly combat the downtown office vacancy problem.

Specifically, the Fund “provides opportunities for private sector companies, non-profits, and public institutions to make transformative investments in Calgary that will be catalysts for economic growth, diversification, increased employment and the expansion of the property tax assessment base.” To be clear, expand our tax base, not increase our rate.

I have heard from critics of Calgary Economic Development – and my answer to them is always the same. Doing nothing gets us nowhere. Period, full stop.

Given the state of our economy, it is imperative that we actively promote the very agency tasked with combatting our economic challenges. For this is the group that addresses how we not only market our City or the global business community, but allows us to directly compete in the new global economy.

The value of Calgary Economic Development cannot be understated – now is not the time be cutting its funding.  I encourage every citizen to go to their website, and better understand the breadth of work, Calgary Economic Development manages on your behalf. (https://www.calgaryeconomicdevelopment.com/ )

Moving Forward on an Event Centre and Culture and Entertainment District

Calgarians want a vision for the future. This week, it became clear that this vision doesn’t include a 2026 Olympic Bid. While I believed that the proposed deal was a good deal, I also believe the right decision was to let Calgarians decide what was best. Ultimately, Calgarians voted no – and that’s okay.

Now, we need to move forward. There are big challenges facing our City: we have a downtown office tax problem – a hole that has grown to $89 Million. Inflation and growth continue to affect the City’s bottom line. A large portion of our property tax goes to the Province – dollars which don’t come back to our communities in an equitable way. The situation is far from ideal, and there is no overnight fix – these problems have been building for years.

We need long-term solutions.

Today, I am proposing one potential solution to these issues. We need to grow our revenues in a sustainable way, while growing our City.  I believe that investing in a new Culture and Entertainment District, anchored by a multi-use Event Centre, is one way to do it. I propose a District that will provide benefit to all Calgarians.

The Event Centre is more than a hockey deal, it is a deal that would see the development of the new Culture and Entertainment District for Calgary. Primed with approximately $3B worth of private investment, the District, upon build-out could generate over $100 million in tax revenue each year.

A new District would attract desperately needed business investment back into our downtown. This new investment would then generate significant revenues for the City – enough to offset our downtown tax problem. In addition, this new district could become a new gathering place in our community – one that celebrates music, entertainment, sport and more.

When you consider our downtown tax problem is at now $89 million - it is vital we stop kicking the can down the road and start to look at strategic ways of creating lasting value and legacy. Our economy won't shift anytime soon. We need, as a city, to start thinking about key investments that yields solid returns.  

Significant work is being done on this file. Last month, we presented Calgarians concept images of what we envisioned. Engagement is taking place – over 6,000 Calgarians have already had their say on our vision, and over 120,000 pieces of information have been collected. We are committed to working with the Calgary Community on realizing this vision, and are actively working to engage key partners.

I’m moving forward on my vision for a new Event Centre and Culture and Entertainment District – and I ask you to join me. Contact my Office today, and let me know what you think.

Our public presentation on our vision can be found here:

https://pub-calgary.escribemeetings.com/filestream.ashx?DocumentId=69249

I look forward to your thoughts,

Best,

Jeff Davison

Councillor - Ward 6