Edmonton's economic agency could see reduced role, downsizing

The economic arm within the City of Edmonton could be downsized if shareholders agree with recommendations outlined in a new report made public Tuesday.  

The report, prepared by Ernst & Young, recommends the city change the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation's mandate to focus only on operating two convention centres  — the EXPO Centre at Northlands and the Edmonton Convention Centre — and attracting tourism. 

Right now, the EEDC manages these two areas and four groups under its Innovate Edmonton branch: StartUp Edmonton, Edmonton Made, InnovateYEG and the Advanced Technology Centre. 

Councillor Sarah Hamilton said for as long as she can remember, the business community has been questioning how effectively the EEDC helps the local economy. 

"They were not doing that work in terms of helping local businesses, for instance, connect with resources."

Hamilton expects the recommendations will help council to make noticeable changes. 

"City council hasn't been super clear on what our direction should be in this space," she said. "What we'll hear time and again is that we actually need to be really firm and decisive, and time to be firm and decisive on the issue of the EEDC."

She noted that the EEDC used to foster trade and attract foreign direct investment until Edmonton Global — a regional body of 14 municipalities — was created in 2017 and picked up most of this work. 

City council asked for the report in September, to help clarify the roles of Edmonton Global and EEDC in attracting investment and trade. 

An audit on the EEDC was released in November, calling for similar clarity. 

The consultants also recommend the city create a separate innovation authority with its own board of governors that would oversee TEC Edmonton, Start-Up Edmonton, Edmonton Screen Industries Office and Health City.

The report also calls for the city to put more resources into retaining businesses, currently done within the city's urban form branch.  

The recommendations are up for public discussion at a meeting Wednesday. 

Council can vote to develop an innovation authority but the shareholder group — namely representatives from the City of Edmonton — must vote separately on whether to alter the EEDC's mandate. That's expected at a meeting in January.  

In a statement posted on Twitter Tuesday, CEO of EEDC, Derek Hudson, said his management group will need time to review the recommendations before responding. 

"I have been very clear over the last several months that I am open to looking at all the potential options," he said in the statement. 

Adrienne Lamb/CBC

He welcomed the Ernst & Young report and said the information will help focus the discussion.

"At the end of the day, EEDC has always been about maximizing value for Edmontonians — and that does not change."

Common themes

In arriving at their findings, Ernst & Young consulted dozens of people, including Downtown Business Association executive director Ian O'Donnell and Chamber of Commerce boss, Janet Riopel, along with several councillors. 

It identified common themes among the respondents. 

  • Roles and responsibilities are not clear between the EEDC and Edmonton Global
  • Lack of trust and confidence
  • Overlap and duplication of effort
  • Lack of accountability and limited key performance measures relative to EEDC for FDI, Trade and innovation activities
  • Confusion and frustration across the board

Mayor Don Iveson said if implemented, the changes would relate to governance, accountability and oversight and hopefully not impact jobs.  

"There is a significant restructuring proposal and while that will create some uncertainty for folks working in some of the different organizations, I want to reassure them, regardless of what happens, the work they do is really important to the city's prosperity."

Hudson also noted that the EEDC employs 1400 full time, part time and program employees.

The group has boosted the city's GDP BY $850 million over the last four years, he said. 

$20M budget

Hamilton said the report and ensuing discussions will inevitably lead council to reevaluate the agency's $20 million annual budget. 

"It's a good time to talk about what the new budget for the entity would look like." 

Hudson noted that a quarter of the EEDC's funding comes from the City of Edmonton, with the balance derived from revenues and expenses at "two world-class venues," partnerships between EEDC and the University of Alberta, and funding from the provincial and federal governments. 

Council will likely not have an opportunity to reevaluate the EEDC budget during the final budget discussions of the city's operating and capital budgets this week. 

@natashariebe