Edmonton aims to innovate to diversify economy post COVID-19

The City of Edmonton will move ahead with a new authority to help diversify the economy in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, city council agreed at a meeting Monday. 

City council approves an innovation entity in hopes of expanding business opportunities

City will take $11 million from the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation and recommit to the innovation entity. (David Bajer/CBC)

The City of Edmonton will create a new authority to help diversify the economy in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, city council agreed at a meeting Monday. 

Council unanimously approved the initiative called the innovation entity — estimated to cost $5 million a year. 

The project started several months ago after council voted to scale back the role of the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation.

But Mayor Don Iveson said the change is now more relevant than ever, and in a post-COVID 19 world innovation and diversification will be essential to building a more resilient economy.

The collaboration will be led by a board and CEO. The board will be chosen in the next week, council was told.  

Edmonton Global, a regional group of 15 municipalities, will be responsible for expanding foreign investment and trade.  

The City of Edmonton will be the business wing, in charge of creating a strategy, including branding the city to investors. 

The Alberta Industrial Heartland Association will work on developing downstream energy processing and attract foreign investment in hydrocarbon processing.

Tourism and convention activities will remain in the hands of the EEDC, similar to the role change council agreed to in December. 

The city is reallocating about $11 million from the EEDC to use for the overall innovation entity. 

Coun. Sarah Hamilton, a vocal critic of the former EEDC, said the new innovation model looks forward.

"Any job in the next 20 years and probably beyond that is going to have something to do with technology and innovation," Hamilton said.  

That includes oil and gas and areas like health sciences and agriculture, she said. 

"There won't be a sector that is untouched by this, and by investing in innovation now we're ensuring that kids growing up today will have a reason to stay in Edmonton." 

Coun. Michael Walters supported the move to diversify the economy so the city and surrounding municipalities don't fall back on the oil and gas industry, given record low oil prices. 

"I know this is a song that politicians have been singing — a sad song we've been singing for generations in this province." Walters said. "But if we can make some significant contribution to real diversification through this work, that would be a major win for my children, you know. I want them to stay in Edmonton." 

The city will recruit a board of experts, which will then hire a CEO to run the innovation entity.

Under the new scenario, Edmonton Tourism will take over K-Days and Farm Fair held on the grounds around the EXPO Centre. 

Iveson said he didn't know how that will impact Northlands, the organization that normally runs both events.