Red Deer County does not ‘poach’ businesses away from city

Red Deer County Mayor Jim Wood is coming to the city’s defence, eager to protect the close relationship the two municipalities share.

Wood issued an open letter Tuesday in response to written remarks by a senior staff member of the Red Deer & District Chamber of Commerce that suggested “the City of Red Deer was a poor supporter of their business community.”

Reg Warkentin, the chamber’s policy and advocacy manager, said city businesses are often frustrated by Red Deer taxes and its administrative burden.

Warkentin states business owners are innovative and have found a way to avoid the burden by moving to neighbouring municipalities: Red Deer County and Blackfalds.

“It’s a regular occurrence to hear from investors, builders, developers and business operators about their frustrations in dealings with the city,” Warkentin said in his opinion piece.

“A few have even remarked, ‘they’ll never do business with the city again.’ Keep in mind that these are the same people that love our city and make incredibly generous contributions within our community.”

Warkentin’s opinion piece was originally published by a Red Deer media outlet July 23. On Tuesday, Warkentin shared the opinion piece with the Advocate.

After reading Wood’s letter Tuesday, Warkentin told the Advocate he stands by his comments.

Wood, who has been on county council for 15 years and has served as mayor for the past nine years, says he has had countless dealings with the city and the relationship has been positive.

Wood states “much has been made in the press about city businesses leaving for other jurisdictions such as Gasoline Alley.”

Red Deer County does not actively “poach” businesses from the city “and we do not see Gasoline Alley or the New Junction 42 Partnership Rest Area as being in direct conflict with Red Deer economic development,” he goes on to say.

He adds some businesses are best managed in an urban setting, and others do well outside of a city setting.

Ultimately, business owners choose the best location for success, Wood explains.

He points to business growth that benefits the central Alberta region, regardless of the municipality.

The mayor closes the letter reiterating that working together to attract and retain jobs is a far more effective use of time than creating a “divisive and hostile climate among the leaders of the community.”

In his opinion piece, Warkentin points to various sources of frustration, such as land restrictions, referring to the Capstone grand opening in 2017, which remains a “muddy mess with zero dollars in private investment.”

He also notes the development of The Dome Sports, a 107,000-square-foot indoor sports facility in Gasoline Alley. He doesn’t believe City of Red Deer businesses will reap the economic benefits through hotels, gas stations, restaurants and retailers.

“City of Red Deer’s inability to attract them (The Dome Sports) within the city boundaries is an absolute travesty reflective upon poor policy that is insensitive to the realities of business, without vision, and as a result, flat out damaging to our local economy and tax base,” Warkentin said, adding that the chamber will continue to lobby for the municipality to adopt competitive tax rates with lower regulatory burden.

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