March 26th, 2019

Sharing the praise for Medicine Hat’s economic surge

By Medicine Hat News Opinon on March 7, 2019.

The City of Medicine Hat has moved from a conversation about how to manage its economic development efforts towards discussion of how to manage growth and, notably, managing expectations.

The second annual report of its contracted economic development provider, Invest Medicine Hat, was brought to council this week, and provides a good but quick overview of what everyone would expect.

Aurora Cannabis will build a $130-million greenhouse here to employ more than 400 workers eventually in a headline growth sector.

For most people’s liking, the report could have stopped there.

The enterprise is likely a once-in-a-generation win for a smaller Alberta city – certainly in Medicine Hat – and for it to be marijuana-related would have been unthinkable three years ago.

At about that same time, Invest Medicine Hat model was born out of frustration with regional economic efforts seen as overly bureaucratic with too few tangible results.

To run through the Aurora announcement again would be passe.

So, the Invest 2018 report’s underlying theme is economic confidence, moves by established businesses to expand, moves by entrepreneurs to start up businesses.

“There’s been a lot,” Invest general manager Ryan Jackson told council. “Some of it we had some influence in, and some others we just want to tell their stories.”

The News has been reporting for some time a growing number of relatively small – and some not-so-small – investments in the local business community; a new commercial block here, a new hotel there, a renovation, an expansion and on.

There’s been so much that a $40-million expansion at Cancarb appeared par for the course.

In January, Folium Biosciences announced it will build a $30-million hemp oil extraction and packaging facility that will employ 250 – big news, yes, but hardly the earthquake that Aurora was.

Officials say there could be more headline-grabbing announcements this year, but likely nothing approaching Aurora.

“That sector heated up really, really quickly – it’s just not normal,” said Jackson, of the cannabis sector explosion touched off by legalization.

He says there’s more opportunity there, in manufacturing for field-grown hemp and greenhouse grown pot, but bigger fish will become elusive.

“Obviously we’ll have to digest what we’ve already got,” said Coun. Darren Hirsch, pun likely not intended.

For their part, Invest is being gracious, quick to spread the credit – which is right, as well as the right thing to say.

It’s far too much to say that any one agency is behind any particular investment.

Companies that don’t see a business case simply won’t invest – and the report notes two dozen or more leads simply didn’t pan out for various reasons.

Jackson also tipped the cap to city hall staff and the business community, which is the politically astute thing to say.

Invest Medicine Hat was born from a frustration over slow growth, shop closures and a seeming lack of results and answers from more bureaucratic led economic development efforts.

After the 2013 municipal election, winning candidates sought a private-sector approach and more internal focus of business attraction than was provided in a regional approach.

That’s been slowly softening from the days of blustery criticism of mansion building in Desert Blume, tractor shops on Highway 3, or an event centre built in proximity to Redcliff.

Now, regional economic developer Verge is busy enough preparing for potentially massive renewable energy projects.

Hatters are busy hearing about projects big and small inside the four walls of Medicine Hat.

(Collin Gallant is a News reporter. To comment on this and other editorials, go to https://www.medicinehatnews.com/opinions.)

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