By Cole Parkinson
In their final council appearance of the three participating municipalities, MDB Insight was lastly in front of Municipal District of Taber councillors.
After meeting with Town of Taber and Vauxhall councils on Dec. 17, M.D. of Taber council was able to get updates from the Taber Region Economic Development Strategy at their regular meeting on Jan. 8.
One of the biggest pieces of the presentation to M.D. council was around four regional strategic objectives which came with regional aspirations.
The four objectives were elevating investment retention and attraction to a targeted and international process that produces constant results in sectors of strength, building on an entrepreneurial system that natures growth, facilitates knowledge-sharing and builds a stronger and more diversified economy, improving economic foundations to ensure existing and future employers have the talent and infrastructure they need to succeed and animating communities in the region to ensure it is a desirable location to live and visit.
Regional aspirations are regional labour supply and talent pipeline, a hub for plant-based protein value chain, access to high-quality broadband, stronger working partnerships across the region, conducive to returning and new families and to reverse the trend of brain-drain.
“It is meant to be a flexible, workable document. If you see initiatives in the M.D. section that you think could be effective at a JEDC (Taber Regional Joint Economic Development Committee) level, have those conversations and vice-versa. If you see something at the JEDC section you feel you want to take on specifically at the M.D. level, have that conversation,” said Paul Blais, executive vice-president MDB Insight.
In terms of aspirations and actions to implement them, Blais says there were a number of steps taken to find out how best to proceed.
“In terms of actually prioritizing those actions, how have we done that? Well, we’ve done that through a number of different means. We’ve listened to what people we’ve engaged with have had to say, we’ve specifically heard from business owners on the issues they feel they’ve been facing and running a business in the region. We looked at the ability for action to provide some immediate return but also on its potential to provide some longer-term economic vitalities and sustainability. And then, importantly looking at the resources required for implementing the actions,” he explained to council.
Four strategic objectives were listed with examples of actions and outcomes for M.D. council as well.
The list of objectives were to be a leader in new technologies and innovative applications for agriculture, formalize business retention and expansion plan to engage businesses, monitor problems and provide opportunities for intervention, diversify the economic base by expanding the agricultural foothold into adjacent sectors and work regionally on collaborative economic opportunities.
“For each of those goals we tried to be very specific so it becomes a very implementation oriented document. It identifies the timing, the rational, the municipal role, other partners that play a role because we realize it is not just the municipality itself that needs to take responsibility for economic development. For council, identifying some performance measures are important here too. Not all of these require money,” added Blais.
In the M.D.’s SOARR (Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, Risks and Results) assessment, strengths are listed as the strongest agricultural sector in the region, irrigation network is revered and also accessible to other industries aside from agriculture and a large number of individual and small-scale oil and gas related businesses.
Opportunities are to ensure new land coming online includes portions dedicated specifically toindustrial zoning, though oil and gas is strong on paper (strong employment and competitive number of businesses), it is not discussed or championed locally and little is known about potential supply-chain gaps or clean technology business opportunities amenable to the region and initiate a series of workshops targeting agricultural producers about new automated technologies.
Aspirations are to grow land availability for non-residential development, understand the key players in top performing sectors such as agriculture and oil and gas and continue to identify supply-chain gaps for business attraction purposes.
Risks are very low high school completion rates, commodity prices affecting local farmers and global competition in the protein sector while results are high school completion rates have improved business visitations conducted, leads generated and leads converted.
One councillor expressed concerns about the lack of oil and gas industry talk in the document.
“A lot of your focus seemed to be in agricultural, and don’t get me wrong that is great, but oil and gas have always been great for this area. A large part of Taber has been built because of the oil and gas industry and quite honestly I don’t think it is even mentioned in the entire report. Are they down right now? Probably, but I don’t think they are out. There will be a time when the oil and gas industry comes back,” said Coun. Brian Brewin. “There probably is some oil and gas out there that could use some help right now.”
Blais explained the reason why agriculture was the prime target in the report was due to the current opportunity in the market.
“I think what we aimed to do was focus on things, we have limited time and money to undertake economic development. We felt like the agricultural sector really does have that opportunity in spades and now is a prime time to capitalize on it,” he said.
While the oil and gas industry was massive over the past several decades, things have hit a rut recently.
Even with council expressing their belief the industry will see a return at some point, there was some doubt as to whether the height would see anything like it had been in the past.
“It will come back but I think it will be a long time until it is back to the state it was in a number of years ago,” said Coun. John Turcato.
Turcato wanted to have more discussion with businesses to gauge what council was doing right and wrong, though he pointed out the discussions should come from the staff and administration side to limit political talks.
“I’m wondering if we don’t need to have more focus on the M.D. itself for economic development,” he added.
Further on the administration side to economic development, the MDB Insight report will provide valuable information on how the M.D. can continue forward.
“MDB has given me a lot of data that we didn’t have eight months ago. Some of the stuff they managed to mine out of the communities is instrumental to how we are going to go forward as economic development for the next 20 years,” said Kirk Hughes, director of planning and economic development.
The report was accepted as information by council.
Before moving on though, council was adamant on making sure the report continued on and wasn’t just put in limbo.
“It seems we do the reports and they get put on the shelf and on to the next report,” added Brewin.
All of council seemed to be on the same page in regard to not wanting to see the report pushed to the back.
“What do we want to do as an M.D.? What is our council’s goal for joint economic development? Name changes and glossy brochures doesn’t necessarily sell our M.D. What do we have to offer? We are doing good things, how are we promoting it? Who are we supporting who are already doing good things? I think as a council, we have a responsibility to narrow down what it is we want to do with joint economic development-wise,” said Deputy Reeve Tamara Miyanaga.
A motion was made for the economic development officer to follow through with objectives one through four in the MDB Insight ‘Growing our Economic Future’ plan and report to council with innovative ways to grow and support regional economic development, and was passed unanimously by council.