Calgary Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Deborah Yedlin said the city’s made progress in many areas, but some of the work needs to be accelerated to boost economic success.
The Chamber released a five-plank, 18-recommendation guide Wednesday called Pathways to Potential. It outlines key areas Calgary’s business community has said they need to succeed in advance of the city’s October municipal election.
“This is a very comprehensive plan because these are very pivotal times in Calgary’s economic history,” Yedlin told LiveWire Calgary.
“We need to make sure that we’ve got the right pieces in place to support economic growth and prosperity for all Calgarians.”
The five areas in the Pathways plan include:
- Attracting and retaining talent
- Rebalancing and stabilizing non-residential property tax
- Addressing Calgary’s Downtown
- Building an inclusive city
- Make it easier to do business
Yedlin said the one main thing they’ve heard from Calgary businesses is the need to attract, develop and retain talent.
“This becomes even more critical because we need to attract people from other parts of the country, around the world, who have skills that we need to help diversify our economy,” she said. There also needs to be a particular emphasis on working with post-secondaries to develop local talent.
“We want people to come here, we want them to stay. We don’t want them to be using Calgary as an ATM machine. We want them to come to Calgary and work, live and play, and not look for other opportunities elsewhere.”
Yedlin said while the energy sector will continue to drive the city, the technical and scientific offshoots of the industry will be a critical player in diversifying.
Taxation and Calgary’s Downtown
Yedlin said many of the ideas in their guide are tied together. While they are advocating for a stabilized non-residential tax rate, Yedlin said they recognize it’s tied to a stronger downtown.
She said the focus on revitalizing Calgary’s downtown holds the key to tax stability. Over the past several years, plummeting land values and skyrocketing vacancy rates have created a wave of tax burden on Calgary’s small businesses.
Rebuilding the downtown with a neighbourhood feel is the right track, Yedlin said.
“It’s a big circle – if we can bring talent here and if we can bring new sectors and new industries here,” she said.
“We have a sort of a circle that starts to be self-fulfilling; in terms of the property tax issue, it’s mitigated, (because) we have businesses that can be viable downtown.”
Action on the downtown needs to be sped up, Yedlin said.
“I think that absolutely has to be accelerated. You cannot have such an important part of a city that is not active, vibrant, that’s not pulling people into the core,” she said.
With a greater focus on it being a neighbourhood, Yedlin said the downtown shifts from being a 9-to-5 place where people work to a place where people live, they can get the services they need, and they can play.
“It just becomes another neighbourhood of the city where people also happen to be working,” she said.
The Chamber also wants to see a greater share of the tax burden on Calgary homeowners. In 2019, Calgary voted to shift more tax weight to homeowners. It went from a 49 / 51 (non-res) split, to 48 (non-res) and 52 per cent burden to homeowners.
Still, Yedlin said this is one of the higher business-tax burdens in comparison with similar-sized Canadian cities.
“Businesses are suffering because of the tax burden. And we have to look at ways to rebalance that,” she said.
Inclusivity and engagement
Yedlin said they want to tap into Calgary’s different communities and create a more accessible city. By opening up labour force participation, it spurs economic activity.
Yedlin pointed to affordable housing accessibility to transportation as barriers to participation.
“We want to make sure that we have affordable housing, and the right kind of transportation infrastructure in our city so that nobody’s left behind,” she said.
“We know that there are certain demographics that have been left behind during this recession, and women, particularly racialized women and immigrants, have had challenges. So, we need to make sure that we have policies that address that.”
On engagement, Yedlin said the city’s come a long way to addressing red tape for city business. It can go much further, she said. The Chamber is proposing an online portal, with business-focused advocates guiding others through city processes. Yedlin likened it to having a healthcare advocate helping guide patients through the process.
“It has to be a seamless, very focused, business-oriented aspect of the administration at City Hall,” said Yedlin.
“It’s really critical to have people who understand business, and come from the business world, to support other businesses in the community.”
Yedlin said they’ve put this together in advance of the Oct. 18 vote, but as a non-political group, they will not be endorsing any candidates.