Calgary city council will debate Monday about whether it should add $90 million to its $10 million economic development fund.
An economic development investment fund of $100 million would allow the city to quickly work to bring business to the city, Mary Moran, CEO of Calgary Economic Development, told the Calgary Eyeopener on Monday.
The main goal is to diversify the economy with new industries and by helping long time industries, such as the energy sector, become more efficient and resilient, she said.
Moran spoke with Calgary Eyeopener host David Gray about how the fund could be used to attract new business.
Council is expected to vote late Monday afternoon.
Q: What would you do with this money?
A: What it would allow us to do is to compete more aggressively with some of the other jurisdictions that we tend to be competing with.
If you look across Canada, Montreal is a great example where they're heavily equipped with the number tools that they can use to attract companies.
What we found, particularly going through the Amazon [bid process], is we didn't have very many tools at a city level — and so this gives us a tool to go out and try to attract companies but also help companies here grow and retain them.
Q: What's a tool? What kind of tools does $90 million buy you?
A: It's really important that people understand that it wouldn't be Calgary Economic Development that owned this fund but we would just manage it.
We would have an intake process. It would go through a third-party validation, and they'd be looking for certain things including job creation, tax generation, increase in assessments and, ideally, if we can get some kind of pay back.
It may not always happen but we're looking for catalytic projects — so something that may spur growth in an area that we haven't pursued very much or there's emerging kind of opportunities or it could be something to fill our downtown office space, could be to attract a company here.
Q: Catalytic projects that spur growth? I don't really understand what that means. Maybe you can sort of break that down for me?
A: We would like to create an autonomous vehicle testing ground or an agri zone or a bio-medical zone. Or is it time for us to look at having a more significant presence of the post-secondaries in downtown Calgary that would help spur student housing and perhaps create more vibrancy in the downtown core?
Another one would be conversion of office to residential, which we've looked at a number of times but the economics of it aren't working in our favour. We could potentially look at [this] and that would create tax generation for the city as opposed to an empty building.
Q: In order to lure things you need bait. Can you use $90 million to provide tax incentives, can you use it to help change over office buildings to make them more friendly for companies to come in? Can you use that cash for those kinds of purposes?
A: Due to legislation, we can't actually do tax incentives. We would look at something else more like a partnership. It could be a relocation.
We would ask them to invest into something back into the community. It would be one-for-one based on whatever contribution.
- Listen to the full argument for why Calgary development needs $90 million
Amazon is only one of many companies we would like to get here to have a greater presence here, so that way it is a great tool. When we went to Amazon, for example, we had a really good value proposition that the province stepped up and was able to put together.
The reality is at a city level, we didn't have a great or effective tool. So when you're playing in the big leagues like that — which we haven't done a lot of in the past — this is a really good opportunity for us to go in and compete.
Q: Is this a new mindset for this city? Let's face it, we haven't had to sell ourselves that much over the last 20 years or so. People just came here because this is where everything was happening. Do we have to rethink how we think of our city?
A: We completely need to rethink. A couple of things we've done is, one, a confidence survey that we did with the chamber that just came out. And people are cautiously optimistic about their business returning to good health and also some potential hiring. But it's really small, and what we know is our GDP growth is going to be relatively healthy. Maybe not as robust as it used to be.
But the job creation is just not going to be there. We have to look for other opportunities to create jobs and fill office space. We have to think about it differently, so we have to go after different sectors, different businesses. And it really is the time for us to evolve.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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With files from the Calgary Eyeopener
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