Wetaskiwin delves into new economic development methods

The City of Wetaskiwin is continuing to expand in its economic development practices, to not only...

The City of Wetaskiwin is continuing to expand in its economic development practices, to not only entice new development into the city but also ensure a focus on creating supports for existing city development.

Community development manager Jennifer Fossen says, historically, communities had a tendency to focus on traditional economic development practices. However, a report presented to Wetaskiwin city council on March 13 highlights how the city is now placing a larger focus on community development methods.

Traditional economic development is what Fossen calls “smokestack chasing.” Large industrial businesses move into a community, creating jobs and bringing with it a population of transferring employees to the city.

“But no longer is that the case,” said Fossen.

With a more transient workforce in today’s society, Fossen says people are becoming less likely to move simply on company direction and instead are choosing job locations themselves.

“With community development we’re focusing more on the businesses already here,” said Fossen. She adds, 75 per cent of growth stems from businesses already in a community.

Expansion and retention

The City of Wetaskiwin’s community development department is focusing on bringing supportive resources and initiatives to businesses already in the city, as well as growing business expansion and retention.

Wetaskiwin boasts more than 700 businesses. “That’s amazing for a city this size,” said Fossen.

Since the beginning of 2017 Fossen has seen approximately 35 new business applications come across her desk, as of March 30.

However, that number is not solely indicative of traditional business applications and also includes transient development operations, including contracting work. Fossen says the numbers can cause confusion, as they do not only represent stationary business in the city.

She adds the number of new business applications is a positive for the city. “We’re getting a lot in.”

“We use more than just business licenses to benchmark where we are in our community for growth,” said Fossen. “It’s definitely multifaceted.”

The city takes into account existing business expansions and hirings, as well as the value of development and business permits.

$30 million in permits…

In 2016 the city saw just over $30 million in building permit values, which is down from 2015 but higher than what 2012, 2013 and 2014 saw, individually.

Fossen is also starting a business expansion and retention program for the city, businesses will be contacted for a survey so the city can get a better indication of the business climate in the community.

The city is also partnering with a number of other organizations, including the Wetaskiwin Regional Chamber of Commerce, Government of Alberta workforce consultants, the Central Alberta Economic Partnership (CAEP) and Community Futures.

“This year is really building that foundation,” said Fossen.

The city also continues its involvement with the Joint Economic Development Initiative (JEDI), the economic partnership between the city, the County of Wetaskiwin and the Town if Millet. “We’re doing cross-promotion,” said Fossen.

“We share the opportunities,” she added.

On March 29 the City of Wetaskiwin announced it received Community and Regional Economic Support (CARES) program funding for its Wetaskiwin is Working campaign.

“This campaign will be a no fluff, pie-in-the-sky initiative. It will feature real businesses and key messaging to target and attract investment and diversification to our existing industries while promoting pride and confidence in out existing businesses to stay and expand their businesses in the City of Wetaskiwin,” said Fossen.

The campaign will first highlight the manufacturing industry within the city, then agriculture, retail and distribution, and services and the added value of oil and gas.

Wetaskiwin is Working

Wetaskiwin is Working will be the kickoff to a retention and expansion initiative within the city, and will be celebrated during small business week.

Fossen says the city is also adding a youth development factor to economic development, in the form of an Alberta Community Co-operative Association Youth Leadership program. “We’re looking at establishing a strong youth leadership component in the community.”

Wetaskiwin is also once again participating in the International Council of Shopping Centres, as it has for more than 10 years. Fossen says the city was the first municipal booth at the trade show.

“I just think it’s really important that Wetaskiwin is open for business,” said Fossen.

Fossen also offers free, confidential business mentoring, guidance and resources through the community development office, located the city’s Visitor Information Centre.