Black Diamond and Turner Valley councils expressed support for a document that offers suggestions on how to enhance economic development in their communities.
MDB Insight’s industry expert in economic development, Lauren Millier, presented a draft of the Black Diamond and Turner Valley Intermunicipal Economic Development Strategy to each council last week, which the consulting company has been working on with the Intermunicipal Economic Development Committee for months.
“This work is fantastic and I’m really happy with the report,” said Turner Valley Deputy Mayor Cindy Holladay. “It was very thorough and eye opening for me.”
Turner Valley council accepted the draft report as information and directed administration to bring back its analysis in early January.
“I would like our administration to look at this and see what we can do better,” Holladay told council. “There are takeaways in this report that we could start today. I would like it brought back in a month’s time to have administration’s take on what we can do better right away and how we can start looking at some of the immediate actions.”
The report documents the towns’ current and historical activities and efforts in economic development, performance of the local economy the past decade, the impact of market trends from oil and gas to tourism and offers suggestions for moving forward.
It contains research on such facts as demographics, population projections, dwelling trends, immigration and ethnic diversity, income levels, commuting patterns, business structure, building permit activity, commercial gap analysis and market trends.
Millier said MDB Insight conducted interviews with municipal staff, merchants and organizations, created an online business survey with 130 participants and held three stakeholder engagement sessions with 70 people in attendance.
Feedback from the sessions revealed such hurdles as the perception that the Towns are not a business-friendly climate, restrictive planning and zoning policies, lack of diverse housing options and lacking support for entrepreneurs and professionals, Millier told the councils.
Community strengths were identified as steady population growth, historical assets, emerging arts and culture, quality of life, natural assets, regional cooperation, oil and gas history and proximity to Calgary and nature, she said.
The report suggests the Towns offer incentives for downtown and Main Street investments, ensure business and development applications receive a high level of customer service and invest in amenities for young families and seniors.
Recommendations in the report include forging partnerships with such organizations as the Foothills Tourism Association and local chamber of commerce, hiring a designated staff person, improving the business development process, developing a shared site with a community calendar, tourism and economic information, implementing a marketing plan and capitalizing on traffic and events in neighbouring communities.
Millier said there’s a need for the Towns to develop modern and flexible zoning to accommodate new types of development, encourage downtown investments, provide opportunities for new and start-up business acceleration, streamline planning and building processes, and ensure businesses and development applications receive a high level of customer service.
“The one comment that came up again and again was the excessive red tape in doing business in the two communities,” she said. “We hear this problem in just about every municipality we work with.”
Millier stressed the importance of having an up-to-date zoning bylaw to address changes in parking standards, vehicle sizes, types of businesses and hours of operation, as well as expediting the process for development permits.
Black Diamond Deputy Mayor Veronica Kloiber, who is on the economic development committee, said she’s excited about taking the next steps.
“I see it as a huge boon to the region, especially now that we have a framework to work together and the economic development committee is very pleased with the company that put the document together,” she said. “The next piece to come is the marketing plan.”
Kloiber said one of the areas she would like addressed first is reducing the number of people who don’t know what the two towns have to offer.
“We should focus our efforts inwards for the moment to get community support and community awareness of all the great things our area has,” she said. “That’s the place to start.”
Turner Valley Coun. Jamie Wilkie agrees the Towns should get started on some of the recommendations.
“To me this is a critically important aspect of what we need to do as a community,” he said. “The linkage between a community’s business tax base and its residential tax rates is crystal clear. If you have more businesses you’ve got better balance in your community.”
Wilkie asked Millier how the Towns can access financial resources to move forward when they’re in such short supply.
Millier said there are a number of funding opportunities, such as tapping into grants and Community Futures Highwood, and that some communities she worked with utilized volunteers.
“I think there’s enough interest in the community on the part of residents and businesses to make that volunteer network work,” she said.