February 28th, 2024

City looks to move Invest Medicine Hat back to private sector

By COLLIN GALLANT on July 13, 2021.

An excavator removes concrete pad at the parking lot at 603 First St., in downtown Medicine Hat on Monday morning, with city hall in the background. The city's economic development department, Invest Medicine Hat, is heading back to a private operator once a request for proposals process is complete.--News photo Collin Gallant


Municipal land sales and economic development efforts may be again taken out of city hall and provided by a private contractor, the News has learned.

Submissions on how a bidder would provide some, all or even more of the services currently provided by the Invest Medicine Hat department are due next Monday.

The winner could be selected early next month and negotiate a 10-year contract by the end of September, according to bidding documents.

They appeared on city and and province-wide tendering websites June 15, and the closing date for a “requests for proposals,” or RFP process is July 19.

That comes after no official announcement of the process, which has been the subject of minor speculation at city hall, and two years after the city brought “Invest” inside the corporation rather than put it out to new tendering.

It was explained at the time by elected officials as a way to retain key staff and the working model, rather than risk it breaking up or risk losing staff in the uncertainty of taking the contract to market.

City manager Bob Nicolay said this week the decision at the time was made at his behest, and led to full examination and blending the operation with other departments, such as utility and planning contacts to create a “seamless experience” for potential investors.

He described it as creating an “Invest 2.0” at the time, and his office was given full oversight outside the traditional committee structure.

“The default was always going out to an RFP,” Nicolay told the News.

Having the department in house “gave us time to evaluate (the scope of the office’s responsibilities) … and put it together so we can have a competitive process.”

The City of Medicine Hat first contracted out economic development following the 2013 election, and first hired local firm Rameco to manage the city-owned “Invest Medicine Hat” brand, paying for business attraction efforts. That resulted in announcements by Aurora Cannabis and Folium Biosciences (both now stalled), though Rameco principal Ryan Jackson surrendered the contract to another Invest official to avoid potential conflicts of interest before it expired.

Since coming under the municipal umbrella, Invest has grown in significance over the past two years, and after a corporate reorganization, it now handles facets of city communications and construction planning. As well as assuming duties of the land department, its managers, including managing director Jason Melhoff, reviewed recent infrastructure grant applications,

The “Waterfront District” is a major project, and it distributes a suite of economic development grants announced this year.

“I’m a big supporter of this model, and I’m looking forward to seeing the proposals,” said Nicolay, who told the News the lack of publicity about the contract-process was an honest oversight.

He said the five-week bid period being handled by a third-party evaluator should elicit strong interest.

In it, applicants can provide overview of their experience as well as proposed additional services and arrangements.

If awarded, the winner would act as agent for the city’s land and real estate portfolio, though the city would maintain key decision making authority.

It is expected to result in a cost savings for the city, though no estimates are given.

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