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. ( )