September 25th, 2020

Business Beat: OK getting DIRT-y to land a big fish

By Sandra Blyth on November 20, 2019.

Wondering what it takes to land a big fish?

Well, it takes more than a fishing hook and some bait. It requires just the right amount of DIRT. The City of Medicine Hat’s Development Investment Readiness Team has been driving progressive changes within City Hall, changes that have secured global investors who are applauding the approach.

DIRT is comprised of leaders from various city departments that have been focused on streamlining internal processes and creating an overall investor experience that has proven successful. Three years ago the team completed an internal audit of the different processes and steps required to land a large investment. It took a good and honest look at how things were done. We started by asking ourselves if we truly were investment ready and if not, what must we do to become ready? How can we be more open for business? From this audit, DIRT organically emerged.

The first step was simply creating one point of contact: The business support officer. This enables investors to avoid disjointedly moving from one department to the next and the next and the next. The BSO conducts initial meetings to build a profile on the investment opportunity and assess its viability and readiness. If proven ready, the next step is pitching the opportunity to the DIRT team. Ready investors have the opportunity to meet with potentially eight department heads all at once. Previously, an investor would have had to meet with each department individually. Now, through DIRT, efficiencies are realized by the investor and all departments.

Should DIRT identify the investment is a good fit for the city the next steps include negotiations, due diligence checks, pre-application reviews, permitting and council approvals. Following approval, municipal development and building approvals are initiated, and regular bi-weekly meetings with the investor begin. Bi-weekly meetings ensure the investor and DIRT are aligned and working together throughout construction all the way to ribbon cutting.

DIRT has implemented a continuous improvement lean policy that engages investors to identify areas where more improvements can be made. Each time the DIRT process is used, it becomes more effective and efficient. Etienne Snyman of Hut 8 Holdings Inc, which was the first to go through the DIRT process said “From initial contact with the Business Support Office through to final approvals, the City of Medicine Hat has been a welcoming and an effective business partner. The city has been able to recruit highly experienced professionals from the public and private sectors across Western Canada and this professionalism has facilitated Hut 8’s fast track development and led to a high level of confidence in the City’s ability to execute.”

DIRT’s success was recently acknowledged by the Chief Administrative Officer’s First Place Award for its work and negotiations on the Aurora Sun development. Terry Booth, CEO of Aurora Cannabis, stated, “We are grateful to the City of Medicine Hat, which has proven to be a very agile, capable and pro-active partner in making this project possible.”

The purpose of DIRT is to seek avenues to continuously improve our individual, organizational, and jurisdictional capacity for investment readiness. We truly believe this process is a game changer for companies looking to develop large scale investments in Medicine Hat.

Sandra Blyth is an economic development professional with the City’s Economic Development and Land Department which is now serving the business community under the brand of Invest Medicine Hat 2.0.

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