Where Is The Focus?

Where Is The Focus?

By Chad Krahn


“What gets measured, gets managed.”

As the father of management theory once said, the challenge is focus - where your time and attention go is where results will happen.

When it comes to Red Deer City Council, there has been little focus - and as a consequence even fewer results - on economic development.

In the last year a lot of focus has gone into social issues, like the location of the homeless shelter, and fair enough, we need a location for the shelter. But when virtually no attention has been paid to the economic health of the city, it’s no wonder that the lack of progress on this file speaks for itself.

In the last year and a half, there have only been two large private sector announcements. The first was the gondola across the Red Deer River, which has since been put on hold, and the second was the downtown casino’s move into the newly minted Red Deer Resort and Casino (formerly the Cambridge Hotel).

That certainly doesn’t speak to a vibrant, growing sector.

The Red Deer Economic Development Strategy was written in 2013 - making it over a decade old.

Remember 2013? It was when CFL light bulbs were all the rage. So much has changed in the last ten years, and in the case of Red Deer, not for the better.

Since the Economic Development Strategy was written, the number of businesses in Red Deer has steadily declined from 4,040 in 2013 to 3,534 in 2022. While the number of businesses isn’t a perfect indicator of economic development, it is actually the metric chosen by Council as part of their strategic plan. Clearly, there is some work to do.

There are some things that Council can do and can prioritize right away to improve this situation. The City tracks building permits, and those too have declined significantly in the last decade. In 2013, the City issued 2,068 building permits and that number has declined every year, so much so that, in 2022, only 903 building permits were issued. The City must work on modernizing the entire permitting system if they want to bolster this number - and make Red Deer more economically attractive.

There must be a guaranteed turnaround time on permits. Council must embrace automation to streamline the process where they can. If the City likes to use the number of permits as a benchmark for development, they can’t continue to be stuck in the status quo when it comes to getting them approved.

Taxes remain a sticking point and, while still competitive in comparison to other municipalities, Red Deerian’s taxes have gone up in the last decade. Even before this year’s new City budget and new tax rate come into effect, the commercial tax rate for Red Deer in 2022 was 14.8% - up from 12.23% in 2013.

Council has an opportunity to create new committees around its priorities. Currently, the City has committees for housing and homelessness, the library, public art, Gaetz Lake, and municipal planning, among others. Why not take the opportunity to create a new committee for Red Tape Reduction?

Surely there are old bylaws on the books that could be revamped. Unfortunately, in government, it is always easier to add new laws rather than to take away old, defunct rules, but that’s no reason not to do it!

A committee on economic development is also needed, to begin the work of a new Economic Development Strategy. This committee would work to bring all the partners and economic drivers of the city and region together, and to find a way to present a clear vision of what this city has to offer in terms of economic opportunity. The economic advantages to those of us who live here are plain as day, but the message doesn’t seem to be resonating with those outside.

Council needs to identify these advantages and work to convey them to potential investors, entrepreneurs, and would-be residents. The City brands itself as an entrepreneurial one, and with a little more focus we could be the business testing grounds for Alberta.

The city’s size and central location makes this an ideal site. Our city could be the launch pad for businesses for the whole country. Imagine how many more made-in-Red Deer success stories we could have.

We can be so much more - all we need is a little focus.

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