Red Deer should consider creating the kind of investment fund that Calgary dipped into to lure away 120 local jobs, says a city councillor.
“I believe we can and should be looking at some type of public investment instrument modelled after the Opportunity Calgary Investment Fund — of course, tailored to fit our community’s needs,” said Coun. Vesna Higham on Wednesday.
Parkland Fuel Corp. says it will use a $4-million City of Calgary grant to consolidate its national operations and add 200 new jobs — a move that will cost Red Deer 120 jobs.
Calgary city council set up the $100-million fund last year to boost the local economy and create employment.
Higham said given the difficult economic times, all municipalities are facing challenges maintaining or expanding their economic base.
“While I understand Calgary’s need to fight for economic vibrancy, it’s heartbreaking to hear that this expansion comes at the expense of so many jobs in our own community,” she said. “I certainly mourn the loss of any jobs that leave Red Deer.”
Higham said the Parkland exodus highlights the need for more creative thinking to attract and retain businesses.
“The city is currently reviewing a spectrum of possible options to incentivize economic development in our downtown and city generally,” she said, adding that those could include tax incentives, grant funding and zoning considerations.
Parkland Fuel has been one of Red Deer’s biggest success stories.
The company’s founders, Jack and Joan Donald, opened their first service station in Edmonton in 1957. By 1964, they had moved to Red Deer and started Parkland Oil Products Ltd.
Parkland Fuel, an independent supplier and market of fuel and petroleum products, now operates 1,800 retail service stations under a number of banners, including Fas Gas Plus and RaceTrac.
The Red Deer & District Chamber of Commerce’s Reg Warkentin said the city must create a tax and regulatory environment that attracts and keeps businesses.
“It’s an open market for business and we expect them to pick the location most conducive to their operations,” said Warkentin, the chamber’s policy and advocacy manager.
The chamber is wary of government’s picking winners and losers by doling out money. A better approach is to hold the line on municipal spending and taxes to lure investment, he said.
“The City of Red Deer has many unique benefits as a place to locate and build a business, but so long as other municipalities have more competitive tax rates and regulatory regimes, it’s facing an uphill battle.”
Coun. Lawrence Lee said the city’s revamped land and economic development department is “looking at ways outside the traditional business attraction framework” to seek out investment.
Red Deer has much to offer business prospects. It has a good location, a skilled workforce and a small-city lifestyle, among other assets, he said.
“You have to have those types of resources in the toolbox before you actually pull the trigger to bring a company into Red Deer.”
“You have to look at all those factors as to why it’s best to do business in Red Deer.”