Cash boost to attract investors

Efforts to attract foreign investment to Central Alberta have received a $1.2 million boost.

Jim Wood

Jim Wood

Efforts to attract foreign investment to Central Alberta have received a $1.2 million boost.

Rural Alberta Development Fund announced on Thursday that it has approved the funding for Turning the Keys on Opportunity, a project that will seek to connect foreign investment with the local business community. Slated to run until the end of 2013, it will encourage the attraction, retention and expansion of businesses in Central Alberta.

“I think it’s extremely important that we continue to have investment happen within this region,” said Red Deer County Mayor Jim Wood, whose municipality made the funding application. “It allows our businesses to grow; it allows new businesses to come in; it provides jobs and helps our economy.”

Wood said the recent slowdown in the oilpatch illustrates the importance of working to diversify the Central Alberta economy.

“If we do nothing, that’s probably what we’ll achieve.”

Turning the Keys on Opportunity will continue the work of Red Deer Regional Economic Development — a partnership involving the county, the City of Red Deer, the Red Deer Chamber of Commerce and Red Deer College; and Central Alberta Economic Partnership — a regional economic development alliance consisting of 43 municipal members and 14 associate members.

The two organizations have been pursuing a number of foreign direct investment leads that were compiled in 2009 by a consultant.

The sectors being targeted are manufacturing, agri-food processing, and logistics and transportation.

“Now the next stage is to try to take those leads and find how they work within this region,” said Wood.

Deb Bonnett, the county’s economic development manager, said a website to connect Central Alberta businesses with foreign investors will be developed and communities in the region will be helped to become “investment ready,” among other initiatives.

“There’s a whole number of little projects that will take place inside this.”

A project co-ordinator, project administrator and business retention, expansion and investment officer will be hired as part of Turning the Keys on Opportunity, said Bonnett, with officials from RDRED, CAEP, the city and the county to help as well.

The goal of the project is to create a “conduit” between local business and foreign investment, said Wood.

“When you’re dealing with someone in a foreign country, you need someone with the expertise in the middle to try to facilitate it.”

He said he’s not aware of a similar project elsewhere in Alberta, and thinks Central Alberta should appeal to foreign investors.

“We’re a pretty good place to do business.”

Jann Beeston, chair of the Rural Alberta Development Fund, praised Turning the Keys on Opportunity for its broad base of support.

“One of the most innovative aspects of this project is the level of collaboration,” said Beeston, adding that the project provides a model for rural communities elsewhere.

Rural Alberta Development Fund is a not-for-profit company created by the province as part of its rural development strategy.