As Metro Edmonton emerges from COVID-19 and the undeniable difficulties it created, we have a great opportunity to reposition ourselves as a city and region that really goes for it.
It’s time for a “Team Edmonton” approach to investment attraction. We need to focus and do whatever it takes to move our city to the next level economically.
I envy Calgary in this way. They display confidence and cohesiveness. They know what they want. They’re clear. They hunt to kill.
Edmonton can be a city-wide open for investment, reflecting a new level of creative commerce, enlivened entrepreneurship, economic diversification and pride in the success of our traditional industries as they innovate to stay competitive.
We spend a fair bit of money and time building and supporting economic development agencies to hunt down and attract new investment to our city and to support local companies to find new markets across the globe. We spend a lot of money and time inside our municipal administration’s refining processes that are supposed to make it easy for businesses to set up and succeed here. There are many talented people doing this work every day.
But Team Edmonton to me means getting organized and focused to win. We don’t have to win everything at once and it doesn’t matter who gets the credit. We need to build momentum and success.
In my view, the post-COVID economic opportunities will be vast yet will be sought after by nearly every region in the world. So what can we do to win?
Firstly, our key economic development and business leaders must quickly find focus, and articulate what five big wins could be for Edmonton.
- Renewed Downtown Vibrancy. What are the key wins for our downtown in the next 2-3 months?
- Biotech Manufacturing. Can we build a vaccine manufacturing facility here leveraging the amazing work being done at the Li Ka Shing Applied Virology Institute at the University of Alberta?
- Agri-Business. Can we advance our Regional Agricultural Master Plan work fast enough to attract major investments in pulse fractionation or nutraceutical manufacturing?
- Artificial Intelligence. We repeatedly hear we’re third in the world in AI research at the University of Alberta, but where do we rank in terms of AI job growth? What are the key commercial partnerships that need to be expanded on and created?
- Hydrogen and the Industrial Heartland. What is our line of sight on real and meaningful capital investment and subsequent engineering and construction jobs?
These are five focus areas that everyone in our economic development ecosystem, including Edmonton Global, Innovate Edmonton, Health City, Invest Alberta, Downtown Business Association, Explore Edmonton, Alberta Industrial Heartland Association, Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute etc. could rally around, focus on and do what it takes to win.
Maybe these are not the right five and maybe five isn’t the right number. The point is to define the goals, define who does what, and sell this beautiful city and region hard – together.
Then we’ll know what we’ve won and lost, review the game tapes and with new momentum we move onto the next five things.
We ought not depend on government partners for financial investment, though we do need them to play a role. The municipalities should do whatever it takes to land these deals with expeditious zoning and permit approvals based on the timelines of investors. The provincial and federal governments need to clear regulatory matters quickly and insert useful incentives where necessary.
I also cannot understate the importance of the Edmonton International Airport. EIA needs to be at the front of our collective investment mindset both in terms of making sure the Federal government is doing everything to get them up off the COVID mat, as well as deflecting this untimely and expensive idea to change its name.
No matter what you are reading in the media, Metro Edmonton is not competing with Calgary or with the Provincial Government. We are tepidly clashing with ourselves. This can stop.
It’s time to get focused and sophisticated. The results will be spectacular.
So Edmonton, should we go for it?