Innovation a priority Red Deer Chamber of Commerce
Balancing the provincial books is a must, but don’t do it at the expense of innovation and research investment, says the president of the Red Deer Chamber of Commerce.
Gayle Langford was asked what direction the chamber wants to see Alberta Finance Minister Doug Horner take in the next budget, which will be revealed on March 7.
Horner has warned that tough decisions will be made to keep the province’s finances in order.
On Wednesday, Premier Alison Redford announced she plans to speak to Albertans in a televised address on CTV at 6:52 p.m. today. She will discuss the government’s long-term economic plan and how the province will cope with falling oil revenues.
Langford said balancing the budget and reining in spending must rank as top priorities.
“It really is important in building investor confidence,” she said.
“But having said that, our chamber would like to see some targeted funding to stimulate applied research in innovation and technology. That’s something where you really get a bang for your buck.”
Langford said that kind of spending stimulates business investment. And with the Red Deer College, the city already has the perfect place to put the money.
When looking for investment targets, Langford believes the province must be careful to not to focus only on the oil and gas sector.
Investing in innovation and manufacturing will also reap rewards.
“I think agriculture is going to start to play a more important role in our economy. Having efficiency and innovation will become more important,” she said.
To get a sense of the opportunities to improve production one needs look no farther than Agri-Trade, Red Deer’s annual showcase for the farming industry.
Investing in agriculture has offshoots far beyond the farm. That innovation spins off into more manufacturing opportunities, she said.
“That’s an investment. It’s not just spending money. There’s actually a return on it.
“And this is one of the key areas that we see that needs a little more targeted funding as an investment.”
Red Deer Mayor Morris Flewwelling also has some advice for the province.
“The one thing I would caution against is trying to balance the provincial budget on the backs of municipalities,” said Flewwelling, adding that has been the route chosen by some past provincial governments.
The Alberta and federal governments have prided themselves on reducing taxes, but that’s not always the best way to go when money is tight.
“We all know that we have to pay our way. That’s the challenge for municipal councillors because we’re right on the firing line.”
Flewwelling also said taking on debt to maintain infrastructure is not such a bad strategy if the alternative is letting that slide.
“We cannot have a strong economy with lousy highways and lousy airports.”
Lacombe Chamber of Commerce president Keith Meyers said small business taxes are competitive in Alberta and his group does not want to see the government tinker with them.
“We just to want to make sure those (taxes) are kept down,” he said. “We need to keep our business going here as efficiently as we can so we can get money turning over in this province.”
People can’t spend money if it’s being taken through tax increases, he said.
Meyers said there is also more that could be done to make it easier to recruit foreign workers.
“It’s just so cumbersome to get employees here from overseas or the (United) States. We need employment and we’re just having a hard time getting them.”
But the main message the chamber has for the government is be careful how you spend tax dollars.
“It seems like our provincial government has been on a bit of a spending spree in the last little while.”
Sylvan Lake Chamber of Commerce president Ken Somner said their key issue is the need for an urgent care centre in town.
The chamber, civic officials, health professionals and local residents from Sylvan Lake and area have teamed up to lobby the province to fund a facility that’s open seven days a week with extended hours, laboratory and X-ray services, and medical care for non-life-threatening issues.
“For us, that’s what we’ve been asking the provincial government for. As a chamber, there’s no other real issues that we’re going for right now (at the provincial level).”
Redford has promised to build 140 family care clinics across the province over three years. It is unclear if Sylvan Lake’s concerns would be addressed by a clinic.