Canmore’s elected officials are still at a crossroads when it comes to finding a direction in which to pursue economic development and diversification in the community.
With the dismantling of Canmore Business and Tourism in 2016, the municipality cancelled its economic development services contract with the organization last September.
CBT decided to fold as a destination marketing organization due to significant funding shortfalls related to the local hotel association’s withdrawal of its support through a destination-marketing fund (DMF).
That meant it could no longer complete the contract for economic development services, and $157,000 of that year’s $314,000 contracted services was returned to the municipality and its economic development reserve.
With a year gone by, Canmore council seems to still be uncertain of what direction to take when it comes to economic development or diversification for the community.
At a recent council meeting in October, council voted to support a Chamber of Commerce economic diversification initiative with $25,000 of funding from the reserve, however, the decision was not unanimous.
Innovate Canmore, a program of the chamber, appeared as a delegation in September to request $25,000 in economic development funding for a feasibility study to support diversification of the tech sector.
Councillor Joanna McCallum said she supports the work the chamber is pursuing through Innovate Canmore, but said she felt it would be more appropriate to provide economic development grant funding through a request for proposal process.
“I think the Chamber of Commerce would do a great job and I believe it would be shortlisted should a request for proposal go out, but I feel this should go out as an RFP and cannot support the motion as is,” McCallum said.
Coun. Ed Russell agreed with McCallum, noting council expects to consider adding an economic development officer in-house as part of its 2018 budget process.
“It may be it is an accident of bad timing, but I think this is better spent in an RFP, or with our own people involved,” Russell said.
General manager of municipal infrastructure Michael Fark said council could, if it chooses, go through an RFP process to support economic diversification.
“That is certainly a process potentially available,” Fark said. “In this case, a group has come forward and is interested in pursuing this type of work. Council has in the past provided funding for initiatives in this manner.”
There are also plans to consider economic development direction into the future for council at the 2018 operational budget discussions. According to Fark, those discussions include hiring an economic development officer as part of administration next year.
Even so, the mayor spoke in favour of providing funds to Innovate Canmore, even with a discussion about what direction should be taken on economic development and diversification expected in the upcoming budget cycle.
“We have been talking for years about doing what we can to diversify our economy and build sectors other than the tourism sector to be stronger parts of the town’s economy,” Borrowman said. “The research- and knowledge-based sector was identified years ago and, in fact, is one of the sectors spoken to in the 2010 economic development and tourism strategic plan; but there has been very little that has happened since 2010.
“It is the intent of the economic development reserve to fund projects like this and currently there is very little funded out of the economic development reserve.”
The mayor said he supports the chamber’s direction and expertise in the knowledge -based sector. He said there is a lot of interest in Alberta as a location for the tech sector and Canmore should be working on building that sector now, not later.
At the end of 2017, with the funds having been approved for Innovate Canmore, the economic development reserve balance is expected to be $175,000. The reserve is funded by business licence registry fees.