Morinville town council is walking away from an economic alliance meant to promote the town on the world stage because it thinks the group isn’t worth the price of membership.
Morinville councillors voted unanimously Dec. 8 to give notice to withdraw from the Edmonton Global economic development group. Members must give two-year’s notice to leave that group, so Morinville’s withdrawal will take effect in 2023.
The vote came on the heels of a decision to hike the town’s annual contribution to the group as part of the 2021 budget to match a recent increase in the group's membership fees. Originally budgeted at $26,000, those fees had increased to $30,345 for next year and $39,530 for 2022 and 2023.
Established in 2017, Edmonton Global is an offshoot of the Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board that aims to serve as a common voice to promote the Edmonton region to foreign investors. Morinville was one of Edmonton Global’s 15 founding shareholders.
Shareholders agreed earlier this year that they needed to boost the group’s fees and activities to draw more investment during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Edmonton Global CEO Malcolm Bruce in an interview. Morinville has raised concerns about the higher fees and called for cheaper forms of membership in the group.
Not worth the money?
Brad White, the town’s planning and economic development director, told council that Edmonton Global’s own documents suggest that the town would get about a dollar of benefit for every dollar it invested in the group – a return he was confident the town could manage on its own.
Edmonton Global doesn’t make a lot of financial sense for Morinville, continued town chief administrative officer Stephane Labonne. The group focuses on foreign direct investment and trade, which was something that might benefit just one town business (Champion Petfoods). Unlike Parkland or Sturgeon County, Morinville also didn’t have a lot of land available for major industrial projects.
“Mr. White and I just don’t see that direct benefit, at least right now, with Edmonton Global,” Labonne said.
Coun. Nicole Boutestein said Morinville would have invested about $100,000 into Edmonton Global by 2023, and she firmly believed the town could get a lot more economic development if it used that cash locally.
“If we were a bigger municipality, there’d be some great returns, but we’re not there right now.”
In a media release, Mayor Barry Turner said that while the town was proud of its support of regionalization, this recent increase in Edmonton Global’s rates was for foreign direct investment and trade, which would not yield tangible benefit for Morinville. Instead, the town could take this money and put it toward more focused efforts to bring jobs and people to Morinville specifically.
“We continue to believe in the value of having a regional economic development agency like Edmonton Global,” Turner said.
“At this time, council has chosen to take a different, more focused approach to its economic development future.”
Turner said in council that the town would continue to push for different membership rates at Edmonton Global in the years to come.
Council heard that Bon Accord and Parkland County had also applied to leave Edmonton Global in the last two years.
While he said he understood Morinville’s decision, Bruce emphasized that Edmonton Global promotes the entire Edmonton region, including Morinville, on the world stage, and that international investors take a regional approach when it comes to business decisions. Morinville would see more jobs, customers and residents come to its neighbourhoods even if that big new factory sets up in the Industrial Heartland instead of its backyard.
“We are far more competitive as a regional base,” Bruce said.
Town council made several other tweaks to the 2021 budget on Dec. 8.
Council backed a move by Coun. Scott Richardson to remove $50,000 from the new $250,000-a-year sidewalk rehabilitation program. While it was a good initiative, Richardson said the town might not need all that money next year, as the pandemic would likely reduce the amount of work crews could perform.
Coun. Sarah Hall led council to ask administration to make $30,000 in non-specific operating cuts, and suggested the reductions come from travel and conference funds that wouldn’t be used due to the pandemic.
Council voted 6-1 (Coun. Rebecca Balanko opposed) to give the Morinville & District Chamber of Commerce $20,000 for economic development. These dollars were contingent on the town signing an agreement with the chamber on the use of that money, and would come from the roughly $1 million in pandemic-recovery cash the town expected to get from the province’s Municipal Operating Support Transfer program.
Morinville Chamber president Shaun Thompson asked council for financial support last October so the chamber could host workshops, expand the farmers' market, and set up an e-commerce platform to help local businesses during the pandemic.
Balanko raised concerns that this money could support businesses that were not in Morinville.
Council was expected to continue its budget debate at a special meeting later this month.