An economic development plan (EDP) for Kneehill County’s future will move ahead with the help of a consultant rather than a permanent employee which councillors decided by a 5 to 1 vote at their June 13 regular meeting.

Councillors heard a detailed report from Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Mike Haugen and Director of Community Services Kevin Gannon about the municipality’s desire and need for a roadmap to improve economic development.

“Administration has been working with a consultant to better understand the economic development environment in Kneehill County,” stated Gannon in a report to council. 

“Our review identified that a fair amount of the data required to effectively guide economic development programs within the county was either outdated or unavailable.

“Inaccurate or unavailable data reduces administration’s ability to align council’s strategic plan to ‘help our community withstand challenges and adapt in the face of adversity.’ 

“Gathering the required information and statistics would provide valuable context allowing administration to provide council with effective economic development strategies.

“Administration recognizes that in order to move the economic development portfolio forward in a progressive and fiscally responsible manner would require the development of an economic development plan (EDP).

“The proposed EDP would provide administration a roadmap to strengthen the economic base within the county. The proposed EDP would be five-year roadmap that would provide administration and our community with a tool that would outline the economic vision, mission, and goals of Kneehill County,” added the report.

Gannon stated Kneehill County has attempted recruiting an economic development officer several times but with no success. The EDP would cost about $36,400 and involve hiring a consultant.

Coun. Wade Christie asked, if the consultant was hired, when could council expect results? Gannon responded staff want to develop the EDP alongside the new municipal development plan (MDP) so they mesh and they’re expected to be done in spring, 2024.

Coun. Laura Lee Machell-Cunningham noted several other reviews and analyses the county has paid for over the past few years related to economic development and asked what more the county needed.

Gannon responded each report or analyses is like a piece from a puzzle which is also affected by the changing economy and market. The EDP would be a summary of all the pieces.

Machell-Cunningham stated as a business owner herself her experience with a previous consultant hired out of Saskatchewan wasn’t good because the consultant had inaccurate information, and the councillor stated business owners don’t like people like that telling them what to do with their businesses. Machell-Cunningham stated she didn’t see the value in an EDP.

Coun. Faye McGhee stated she supports an EDP as she felt residents want to know what the municipality is doing to help businesses.

The CAO noted the difficulty in finding an economic development officer will be addressed by a consultant’s hiring, and noted the EDP was already something councillors stated they wanted done; an economic development officer would be developing the plan if the county had one on staff.

Haugen stated Kneehill County’s investment readiness hasn’t always been high in the past. “We weren’t ready for a lot of stuff,” said Haugen, who added an EDP would identify holes and gaps where Kneehill County could make its economic development efforts more fruitful.

He also noted the $36,400 for the consultant would come from funds set aside for an economic development officer.

Coun. Debbie Penner noted previous Kneehill councils identified economic development as important and having an economic development person on staff has benefits; hiring a consultant is the next best thing.

Councillors voted 5 to 1 in favour of hiring a consultant to assist in developing an EDP for $36,400, Machell-Cunningham the lone dissenter.

By Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jun 29, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from   East Central Alberta Review   Coronation, Alberta

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