City council approved the final report of the Economic Development Strategy at this week’s regular meeting.
The document, which was completely supported with the exception of Councillor Tara Veer, will be used as a guide for future development initiatives.
The draft strategy was first presented to Council last month and included six major focus areas – strategic positioning, economic diversification, land use, labour availability, small business support and downtown revitalization.
As part of the consultation a focus group was held with the Economic Development Strategy Advisory Committee, and a survey was sent out to 1,200 members of Red Deer’s business community asking them to rank the plan’s 34 strategies for economic development.
“We asked participants to determine whether a particular strategy was of high, medium or low priority or a priority at all,” said John Sennema, the City’s land and economic development manager. Ultimately, 124 responses were received.
“The objective being to have a document that is not a City of Red Deer strategy, but is a community-based economic development strategy,” he said.
Based on the feedback from the focus group and surveys, five strategies were ranked as high priorities – capitalize on Red Deer’s central location, attract more workers to Red Deer, promote growth of creativity and knowledge-based businesses, ensure sufficient supply of serviced industrial land and unlock the potential of road, rail and air transportation networks.
“They really are cornerstones of economic development,” said Bruce Schollie of Schollie Research & Consulting, who was brought onboard to help with interpretation of the data.
Moving forward, administration will assess the City’s role in relation to individual strategies and determine if the City leads, partners or supports each initiative.
Councillor Paul Harris said he appreciated the work that had been done on the report, adding that from a business perspective, “It’s exactly the kind of work that we need toward a good plan in the future.
“I’m really comfortable with the document and I think there is some really great material in here. It will not only serve council and administration but it will also serve the community well.”
Councillor Cindy Jefferies agreed. “I speak in favour of this document as a planning document for the City and perhaps for our partners within the community. I think it provides good direction and would help us all focus as we move forward hopefully in a concerted effort.
“I also look forward to the next steps becoming a little more clear and the detail to follow,” she said. “I think it will become a great roadmap and a real force that will bring us together in our economic development activities, and (help) determine who is doing what which will be very important.
“With all the organizations that are involved in community development, if we can achieve even a portion of what’s highlighted and synthesized here for us, then we will be well on our way to positioning Red Deer going forward as the third largest City in Alberta and as a player along the highway two corridor.”
Prior to voting on whether or not to approve the report, Mayor Morris Flewwelling recommended that council not be overly concerned at this point about not getting into the “minutia” of the report.
“I’m sure there are parts of the report that everyone of us could say ‘Where on earth did that come from?’ or ‘I don’t agree with that’. But we’re looking at the overall report.”