Building a prosperous economy for all Edmontonians

More business and job opportunities. Less red tape. Greater economic growth. 

The City of Edmonton is committed to achieving those goals for all Edmontonians. That’s the message behind three reports delivered to and unanimously accepted by the City’s Executive Committee on Wednesday, April 13.

At the centre of the presentation was an update of the Edmonton Economic Action Plan—a 10-year road map to building a vibrant, inclusive and sustainable economy by making it easier to do business in Edmonton. It was approved by City Council in 2021. 

On track 

“I am happy to report the work of the Action Plan is on track and we are collectively building a more prosperous and inclusive Edmonton for all Edmontonians,” Stephanie McCabe, Deputy City Manager of Urban Planning and Economy, told the meeting. 

What has the Economic Action Plan achieved in its first year? 

In 2021, 2,222 building permits for industrial, commercial and institutional projects were issued with a total value of $1.1 billion of investment in Edmonton. (That’s down from 2020, but up from 2019.)

A screenshot of the first Economic Action Plan update to the City’s Executive Committee.

Collaboration is crucial 

Investment in the city, however, also requires the City to rely on its partners—such as Edmonton’s 13 Business Improvement Areas, Innovate Edmonton, Explore Edmonton, Black Canadian Women In Action, and AKSIS, Edmonton’s Indigenous Business Association

“Working with all of our partners in collaboration is crucial—and we’re thankful for them all,” said McCabe. “None of us can do or carry this work alone, and the strength and value of our partnerships is so critical to our joint success.”  

One of the City’s partners, Edmonton Global, helped to facilitate a pre-investment consultation with Polykar, a manufacturer of sustainable packaging. The Canadian company is building a $40-million, 500,000-square-foot warehouse in the city.

Polykar received its development permit from the City in a record 41 days. 

“The CEO called me to tell me that he has never had that type of experience in working with any other city and he wanted to thank me for the work that we were doing to be able to expedite and make sure we had a business-friendly approach to his permits,“ said McCabe.    

McCabe was asked if the report leaned toward highlighting the help given to attracting big investment at the expense of supporting existing “mom-and-pop” operations. 

“That wasn’t our intention,” said McCabe. “It was absolutely a both-and in terms of wanting to support our small businesses in Edmonton through our One-On-One business support.”

The majority of business in Edmonton is “absolutely small business,” said McCabe, adding that means tailoring the right supports for them and highlighting those stories.

An image of Edmonton’s economic ecosystem from the City’s Economic Action Plan update.

Red tape reduction

The second report presented to Executive Committee was the Permit and Licensing Improvement (PLI) Initiative. It’s a look at how the City is making it easier (and faster) to get business permits and licences, while making sure what is built is safe and meets regulatory requirements. 

The committee heard that in 2020, Edmonton ranked second for its approvals timelines, planning features and government charges in a study for the Canadian Home Builders’ Association. Local businesses saved 261,000 days and $4.6 million annually as a result of improved permit and licensing processes between 2018 and 2021. 

This was accomplished in several ways. Examples include: 

• Approval times for business licences were cut in half—from 20 days to 10 days—when a building permit wasn’t required.

• Businesses were able to open sooner by allowing owners to start interior demolition work while they waited for their building permits to be approved.

• More businesses were able to apply online for permits and licences—more than 90 per cent of the City’s applications are now available online. 

• In the case of sign permits, approval times were cut in half since applications moved online. 

• Homeowners were able to get same-day permits for lower-risk reno projects such as decks and garages. 

“Edmonton’s ability to retain, attract and grow business is impacted by how the City regulates and provides permitting and licensing services to businesses, property owners and potential investors,” said Kim Petrin, Branch Manager of Development Services. 

“An efficient permitting, licensing and regulatory process helps reduce barriers, like wait times, and encourages investment in our city from businesses and property owners.”

Business Friendly Edmonton 

The City of Edmonton isn’t just updating its approach to permits and licences. 

It also provides businesses with the information they need to make decisions such as where to open or how to test a new product. This One-On-One Support Service is part of the Business Friendly Edmonton Initiative—the subject of the third report presented to Executive Committee. 

“Businesses are the investors, risk takers and job creators,” said Tom Mansfield, Director of Local Economy and Investment Services. 

“Whether they are looking to sell to the City, open a home-based business, choose the best site for their location, trial an innovative product or service, or expand their manufacturing plant, we will create clear and complete roadmaps for their journeys.”

Plan ahead 

With the first Economic Action Plan update in the books, what’s in store for businesses in year two? 

More certainty. Greater clarity. Even less red tape. 

In January, the City introduced a new Business Licence Bylaw that provides clearer, more consistent regulations. It also allows the City to respond quickly to new business types and create licences for them. 

The City also revised its zoning bylaw—making it easier for some businesses to open without development permits in certain areas of the city.

The owners of Trial & Ale, an Edmonton brewery, relied on the City’s One-On-One Support Program, the committee heard.  “We would not be in business today if it wasn’t for the City’s small business team,” says co-owner Ryan P. Photo courtesy Ian Breitzke and Trial & Ale.

Red Tape Roundtable

On April 6, City’s Administration held a roundtable with a wide range of Edmonton businesses to discuss their experiences with the City’s permitting and licensing services. 

“Themes from the session included unclear and redundant requirements, difficulty navigating various areas of the City that require permits and licences, and the amount of time that it can take to obtain approval for things that are important to business owners and city builders in Edmonton,” said Petrin. 

The City is working to further streamline these services, to devise ways to measure its progress with reducing wait times and to even offer guaranteed timelines for some types of permits. 

Prosperity for all

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi would also like to see the City take steps to help remove systemic barriers to racialized communities. Executive Committee passed his motion requesting Administration to provide a memo on its efforts to support underrepresented businesses and entrepreneurs. 

“I think we are on the right path, so congratulations to you and your team for all the hard work you have done,” Sohi told McCabe. 

“Let’s continue to build on that to make Edmonton a convenient place to do business, an easy place to do business and an affordable place to do business. 

“And do it in a way that lifts people up and makes sure that people who have felt left behind from economic growth, particularly marginalized communities and Indigenous communities that see more barriers, what we can do to remove those barriers, that all the processes are working for everyone, that we are truly building prosperity for all Edmontonians.” 

Editor’s note: the screenshot at the top of the post shows construction underway in July 2021 in Edmonton.

To learn more about the three reports and the City of Edmonton’s commitment to building a resilient economy, watch Administration’s presentation to Executive Committee: