May 20th, 2018

Senator says mid-sized cities have big role

By Collin Gallant on April 21, 2017.

Senator Doug Black stops at City Hall on Thursday to meet with Mayor Ted Clugston. Other stops on his itinerary included a visit to Medicine Hat College. -- NEWS PHOTO EMMA BENNETT

Mid-sized communities can play a big part in diversifying the Alberta economy if they can find their “sweet spot,” according to a Canadian senator who met with local business and education officials Thursday.

Two years ago, Sen. Doug Black undertook a project titled Alberta 2.0, which explores encouraging innovation in business, technology and government as a way to broaden the Alberta economy, which is now suffering with declined petroleum prices.

Black added Medicine Hat to his list to hear about local homeless initiative, municipal support for renewable energy, and a new business incubator at Medicine Hat College, as well as local businesses.

“Oil and gas, it’s certainly known in this city, is key, but we want to ensure other sectors of the economy get the attention required,” said Black. “I want to find out, on the ground, if people are looking at innovative ways of solving problems and, obviously, creating economic opportunity.

“How do we work to make a more resilient Alberta?”

Black, a former corporate lawyer named to the Senate in 2013, is a former board chair at the University of Calgary and has also worked on energy policy.

As part of a tour this week, he met with Medicine Hat Mayor Ted Clugston, officials with Medicine Hat College and defence contractor QinetiQ, formerly Meggitt.

He previously held meetings in Edmonton on Wednesday and goes to Calgary for a round-table event on Friday.

His report outlines agri-food, health care and clean technology as areas in which Alberta-based companies could thrive — areas outlined by the recent federal budget for funding to spur economic growth.

“The Government of Canada talks about how it understands innovation, and will put hundreds of millions of dollars into that (agrifood) area,” said Black.

“And we need to make sure we’re at the top of the list when that money is rolled out … We need to get back as much of our money from Ottawa as we possibly can.”

The 2017-18 federal budget, released last month includes $950 million to help develop “superclusters” for industry development. The concept aims to gather together players in a particular sector in a general location to better form partnerships.

Those targeted sectors include advanced manufacturing, digital technology, health/bio-sciences, clean resources and agri-food.

The government’s economic growth council has also challenged ag producers and food processors to boost exports by 50 per cent to $75 billion per year by 2025.

A further $2.2 billion is laid out to support environmental technology development, two-thirds of which is for financing available through the Business Development Bank of Canada and Export Development Canada.

He said that while Albertans are generally very innovative, they “haven’t been great collaborators” and that will be key to develop new facets of the economy.

Smaller and rural communities also need to determine their strengths and how to fit that into a bigger picture of a provincial industry.

“What’s the sweet spot? And how do you link in? Maybe you do already but I hope to facilitate that,” he said.

Invest Medicine Hat, the city-contracted economic development office, has concentrated on promoting the city’s potential for agrifood, clean technology and renewable energy for the past year.

In February, the province announced $342,000 for Medicine Hat College to create an APEX regional innovation network to support entrepreneurs and out-of-work energy workers with projects and partnerships.

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