Bringing more business to St. Albert is one way the city could expand its non-residential tax base, and foster a vibrant economy.
COVID-19, however, has been especially tough on business, and St. Albert is no exception. The Gazette asked all candidates running in the Oct. 18 election how they would work to attract business to St. Albert, if elected.
Mayoral candidates had 120 words to answer the question:
Bob Russell: I have acted as a consultant for a major firm looking to expand and it can be quite a sophisticated and analytical exercise. For large firms, population and expected annual growth is a major factor; then the cost of land or lease cost, taxes, local competition, cost of housing, transportation, and amenities for employers are the major factors. For smaller firms, I suggest that they often begin by renting space if they are a small retailer or service provider and if they manufacture or produce a product than availability of land in a business park would be a factor. As a mayor I have to be on top of these issues and ensure that our administration has the tools and information available to them so they can respond to new businesses.
David Letourneau: Many barriers exist for prospective businesses considering St. Albert as their destination. Development costs in our industrial parks are significantly higher than surrounding communities. I would review our current land-use policies and our bylaws to see if there are opportunities to lower costs. Also, our mill rate for non-residential (tax payable per dollar of the assessed property value) is the highest (11.29 per cent) among our surrounding comparable municipalities (Strathcona: 9.20 per cent; Parkland: 8.45 per cent). St. Albert is roughly 30 kilometres away from the industrial heartland, so there is an opportunity to position St. Albert as a major service hub to a broad range of businesses. Lowering our mill rate for non-residential businesses could be a first step in positioning St. Albert favourably.
Cathy Heron: Service Lakeview Business District! This is a priority for next term as we are almost out of commercial and industrial lots, because of recent development. I am excited about the possible future of the Collaborative Economic Development which sets the stage for the 13 municipalities in the region to work together instead of competing against each other. We have a low non-residential property tax, and we must keep other factors such as utilities and fees competitive. Downtown needs attention and incentives to fill vacant spots and increase its vibrancy. And finally, we need to assist entrepreneurs and support business incubation. This should be done by giving access to mentorship, investors, and providing other supports to help get them established.
Angela Wood: We need to listen to St. Albert businesses; determine what challenges they have experienced in St. Albert. By engaging a variety of business owners through focus groups, surveys, and organized discussions, we can learn the real issues facing our community’s business owners. This must include businesses that contacted Economic Development and who considered but chose not to set up their business in St. Albert and learn the reasons they chose to not move ahead here. In addition, we need to ensure we have enough commercial and industrial serviceable land for businesses who want to build here, as both of our current industrial parks are at capacity. To expand our business base, serviceable land needs to be available to develop.
Council candidates had 80 words to answer the question:
Wally Popik: I don't have a plan for this issue. If elected, I would need to pay attention to that in order to help what is already being done as well as increase it.
Shawn LeMay: I would love us to look carefully at the Kanata, Ont., model and similar success stories. We need to market what we are and generate more destination dollars. We can build and sustain recreational attractions that will entice tourists, while giving St. Albertans reasons to stay in the city. Along with my can-do attitude, my personal and professional network across the country and beyond affords me the opportunity to promote St. Albert as a lucrative investment opportunity.
Louis Sobolewski: I would work toward creating an atmosphere that says St. Albert is open for business. This will be achieved by reviewing our business-tax structure and ensuring it is competitive with other municipalities. I also would examine what regulations and red tape we currently require that discourage development and investment.
Sheena Hughes: We have almost run out of serviced industrial land for businesses to build. We need pipes in the ground up to the Lakeview Business District to encourage that land to be developed. The electrical franchise fees imposed by the current council are a disincentive for both small and larger businesses or factories to set up shop in St. Albert and not increase it further. We have non-residential tax rates that are lower than Edmonton and should promote this stronger.
Leonard Wilkins: There are two challenges in attracting business to St. Albert. a.) finding the type of business that St. Albert is willing to accommodate; b.) providing these businesses with a reason to operate in St. Albert. First, we identify business sectors that are in line with St. Albert's vision, then we identify their needs and what it will take to attract them. This approach will allow us to target our resources and grow St. Albert in a sustainable manner.
Rachel Jones: As a marketing manager, this is my favourite question. Integrated marketing strategy is my speciality, and I think St. Albert has an exceptional, stand-out city brand with wonderful attributes and so many opportunities to leverage. The Chamber is a wonderful local leader of this. Businesses are already attracted to open in St. Albert — so the goal will be to attract the right businesses that diversify services for residents, and businesses that increase our non-resident tourism/traffic. We have so much potential!
Jennifer Cote: Council must strive to be active within our local business community. St. Albert has an educated and highly-skilled labour base, and well-established business parks with the infrastructure required to facilitate business growth. The challenge isn’t just attracting businesses, but keeping them here. Determining how to make our city a more desirable place to start and grow a business will require focused engagement with our local business community to identify existing barriers to success.
Isadore Stoyko: The best attraction is having an educated and talented workforce to offer companies to set up shop. A fair tax rate that doesn’t fluctuate wildly with hidden add-on fees is also an item business finds attractive long term. These are things that companies will look for and everybody can be an ambassador to promote the city and surrounding area.
Gilbert Cantin: To attract more businesses, we must create the conditions to attract them. Taking care of traffic issues is the start. Second, we could offer property-tax discounts on new businesses for their first five years. We should also create more industrial areas away from existing residential areas. It will be possible, with the annexation process going on, St. Albert will have more lands.
Wes Brodhead: The first issue in attracting business to St. Albert is to ensure that serviced land is available for light-industrial businesses to locate in our community. This is being accomplished with the servicing of the RR260 lands. Linked to available serviced land is an area structure plan for the Lakeview Business District, which will allow businesses to move to construction. The third step would be to work to keep the business environment in St. Albert competitive within the region.
Joseph Trapani: Businesses know businesses, so why not work with the Chamber of Commerce on how we can help new development in our city? Council could make development permits less of a red-tape measure, or maybe hold off on taxing the development until it is completely built. Put in every document that is sent to the public that St. Albert is ready and open for business with incentives for coming to our city.
Sandy Clark: I would seek alliances with the Chamber, Edmonton Global, and NABI, to work with businesses to hear their views, seek their input, and find financially sustainable ways for businesses to choose St. Albert, including a review of sign bylaws, development requirements, and permitting. Businesses need to be able to move their products and services into and out of St. Albert efficiently and cost-effectively and additional north-south routes like Fowler Way and NRR will be attractive to long-term business sustainability.
Kevan Jess: While St. Albert has opportunity to leverage the regional efforts of the EMRB, and associated agencies/efforts for advantage, bottom line must focus on overall advantage to St. Albert. The work creating land for commercial and light/medium industrial development must continue, but the greatest advantage that needs to be marketed is the knowledge, skill sets, talents, and abilities of our residents. Creating conditions for high-tech success, including public/private partnership in expanding SMART infrastructure and buildings within the city, needs to be a significant portion of planning for the future.
Ross Guffei: We need to review the existing programs to attract industry to our city. By consulting with both businesses that already reside in St. Albert and other potential businesses we wish to attract, we can identify those things that make St. Albert a desirable place to establish a business and built on those factors. We can also promote the city as one of the greatest cities in the country.
Natalie Joly: Businesses come to St. Albert when they know they can thrive here. We create the conditions for vibrant businesses by ensuring that our development and licensing process is accommodating, and that customers and suppliers have easy access through active or road-based transportation networks. I will continue to work with the Chamber of Commerce, Economic Development Committee, individual business owners, and residents to ensure that we are attractive to the types of businesses that fit with St. Albert’s character.
Mike Ferguson: If we want long-term business, we could develop more high-rise living downtown. I see what's going up at the former site of the Blind Pig, and a few more high-quality buildings in the area would serve downtown businesses well. Local businesses are wonderful, and it makes shopping a wonderful experience.
Shelley Biermanski: Attracting business to St. Albert has been a very long-standing conversation and an economic development team was even created. At the same time many good small businesses have moved a short distance into Edmonton for lower taxes and rent. The city needs to focus on not losing the businesses they have while making the city attractive to new businesses. Business-to-business referrals would help as well.
Ken MacKay: My strategy will be to foster a strong working relationship between the Chamber of Commerce and our Economic Development office to deliver programs that will assist with business attraction, expansion, and retention. Support “shop local” initiatives, work with existing downtown businesses on strategies to create a vibrant downtown, review city procurement policies to support local businesses, continue efforts to streamline business processes, and examine our fees and levies to ensure we stay competitive in the region.
Mike Killick: We have a significant investment and knowledge in our economic development team, we need to hire or promote a permanent director to fill a critical vacancy since January. We need to promote that we have commercial land ready for development, we will have excellent transportation connections when Ray Gibbon is completed next year, we have a well-educated, skilled, diverse work force right here, and when businesses locate here employees will want to work and live in St. Albert.
Donna Kawahara: Annexed land could be developed into business or light industrial parks. This could lend itself to new opportunities entering St. Albert. We have a highly-educated population and could focus on bringing in high-tech and clean industry, allowing residents to have more employment opportunities. I hope to be a bridge to the Indigenous communities and the development grants they have access to. They need partners, and St. Albert can enter into mutually beneficial agreements with the First Nations and Métis.