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Saturday, May 21, 2011

The First Few Months

Where Have We Been In The First Few Months?
The Inter-municipal Development Plan (IDP) has attained final approval from the Capital Region Board (CRB).  This was not a simple task for a variety of reasons.  The CRB asked Devon for numerous revisions along the way.  The CRB, as an organization, has embarked on a pathway towards organizational maturity.  Probably one of the key revisions that moved the CRB to issue their approval was for Devon to clearly communicate to stakeholders that Devon can't simply recreate our footprint west of 60.

Recent sour gas well issues have created significantly larger setbacks from well sites.  Wetlands regulations have created issues as well.  These items and others came under the review of the CRB.  Regional politicians had expressed doubts about our ability to secure approval for our IDP.  Perseverance combined with a "can do" and a "shift on the fly" attitude have facilitated our ability to shift and change in order to accomplish our end goal.  That was the most integral part of our secret sauce. 

We all know some prominent people who struggle with the idea of seeing Devon grow.  They would say that Devon should remain the same size, that we should preserve our municipality just as it is today.  The vast majority of residents in Devon, however, are interested in sustainable and quality growth.  They realize Devon cannot afford to stagnate.

When citizens deliver a mandate to form a governing body, they expect their mandate to produce results.  Let's stop for a moment and consider what has happened in a few short months since the election.  This is a short list and by no means is it comprehensive nor in any specific order, it's just a list of a few items the residents of Devon wanted us to deal with.  I thought I'd craft a little table, kind of like a report card.  

Spring 2011 Mini-Muni Report Card

Secure CRB Approval For IDP - Allows Devon To Grow
Final Approval May 2011
Twin Highway 19 - Provincial 3 year plan
Approved by Alberta Transportation
Move Devon To 21st Century Technology & Social Media
Website / Facebook / Twitter
Enhance Communications with Business Community
Joint Council / Chamber of Commerce Meetings
Enhanced Economic Development & Tourism Board
Hold Taxes Down - Manage Devon More Like A Business
Tax rate increase among lowest in region, business attitude grows by the day
Improve Safety and Traffic Controls in Areas Where Our Kids Are At Risk
Digital Speed Signs & Enhanced Patrols
Speed Zone Evaluations In Progress
Honor our Veterans with Veterans Way
Nearly Done
Legion, DND, and RCMP Approvals are Secured
Waiting on Banners, Signs, and a Ceremony
Resolve Parking Issues Downtown & Pave the Back Parking Lot
Nearly Done
Paving and Lighting will Occur Summer 2011
Continue to green up Devon & Be Environmentally Sensitive
Organics Collection, Methane Capture, and Landfill Airspace Growth Initiatives In Planning Stages
Revitalize the Downtown Core
Numerous Options Being Explored
Discussions With Key Stakeholders In Progress
Create Solid Long Term Plan To Generate Jobs & Grow Local Economy
Work on These Items Were Being Done in Parallel with IDP Approval

Items unaccomplished for years are now being added to the "done" list.  We are constantly evolving the work priorities of our municipal administration.  Teamwork and rapid advancement of numerous items previously unaccomplished are the result from leveraging a historical body of work with new and different synergies.

We should also remember numerous initiatives now bearing fruit are, in part, the result of years of work.  The Economic Development & Tourism Board and the Parks and Recreation Board have collaborated with key stakeholders in the community to create changes for the last few years.  From boards like these came the initiative for rebuilding our website, engaging in social media, enhancing communications with residents, and quantifying the economic impact of special events and collecting actionable data sets.

These are the sorts of activities that often go unnoticed, but they are, in fact, the underlying foundation for accelerating changes that have resulted in exciting initiatives like Bike Town.  Changes that have enabled the underpinnings for solid infrastructure and tremendous event success.  Through multiple board collaboration, municipal collaboration, and volunteer work, we have created a welcoming environment for special events that has resulted in Devon's elevation to regional and national stature.  If we move forward with a bicycle skills park, why would we not want to build it with competitive events in mind?  Anything worth doing is worth doing right.  It seems logical that we should focus on such matters in a manner that will generate benefits for all residents.  Some will use it and some will not, but if it generates revenue and business, all shall benefit.

The success of this or any organization rests on the ability of people to work effectively as a team.  It is also critical to have vision; to listen to the residents; and to take responsibility for the critical components of strategic initiatives.  

Where Can We Go From Here?

Let us then consider how we might position ourselves to take advantage of macroeconomic conditions that surround us.  Devon is, quite obviously, situated in a strategic location to capitalize on the impending growth of the Asia Pacific Gateway.  The Prince Rupert Port Authority is positioned to be a major corridor or "gateway" between North America and Asia.  The railway throughput has substantial room for growth and intercontinental trade cargo can be repackaged for distribution throughout North America right here in our region.  The Port Alberta concept is built upon the fact that this key transoceanic shipping and rail combination represents the closest link between Shanghai and Chicago. 

The success of Port Alberta will correlate to the success of the Asia Pacific Gateway.  Port Alberta meshes priorities outlined by the Government of Alberta regarding economic trading patterns.  It is prudent to create additional trading partners in order to reduce our vulnerability to the recessionary pressures of any one market, in our case, the United States.  As such, the Government of Alberta intends to focus on expanding trade with Asia in order to leverage Port Alberta, Prince Rupert, and the Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia New West Trade Partnership Agreement.

The importance of the Asia trade corridor for Devon and the capital region is obvious.  Canada’s trade with the Asia Pacific region has remained stable over the last few years.  In 2010 the total trade growth with the region was slightly higher than the United States, checking in at at 10.9%. It must be kept in mind, however, that a small percentage change in magnitude with the United States is much larger in dollar terms than double-digit percentage changes in many other markets.  This is something to keep in mind as we look to new markets. 

The fastest growing region for Canadian trade is Latin America.  In 2010, a growth of 26% was more than double our growth rate with Asia.  Because of the significant portion of energy related investment with Latin America, this becomes a particularly interesting investment opportunity for our region.  As we diversify, the Asia Pacific Gateway will grow, and Devon will be in a unique position to capture substantial benefits.  But we can do even better, by expanding our ties with Latin America, we can skate to where the puck is going to be...

On a provincial and federal level, knowing labor prices and inflationary pressures will continue to grow in Asia, the advantage of outsourcing cheap Asian labor will compress and, when combined with rising energy prices, eventually shift the labor market.  As cheap labor advantages diminish and the cost of moving goods across large distances increases, it is likely that the intra-hemispheric trade will accelerate.  This is in line with what we see in recent economic data sets.  Accelerated growth rates within the hemisphere will benefit the capital region because a large portion of this growth segment will be related to the energy industry.

Latin America, as a region, is expected to grow by 4.1 per cent annually over the next five years, nearly twice the rate of G7 and EU economies, according to the IMF.  Scotia bank's chief executive officer Rick Waugh recently said "Canadian interest in Latin America is building, but not what it should be, and that Canadians do have to be pushed on this issue."

The big names like Bombardier, McCain Foods Ltd., and SNC-Lavalin have extensive Latin American operations, but so too does National Oilwell Varco.  While Devon has a great relationship on an east west axis with Japan and Germany, the above realities suggest it is time to explore how Devon can benefit from developing enhanced relationships on a north south axis.

We are off to a good start with the far north.  The north south axis has tremendous potential for Alberta, with estimates of the Mackenzie Delta-Beaufort Sea region having as much as 16 trillion m3 of natural gas in hydrate form.  Understanding the potential of this resource was the reason I suggested we explore the possibility of exploring a cultural exchange with Inuvik during the Olympic Torch Relay.

The cultural relationships developed were fantastic as our people went north and their people came south.  Our relationships have been established well in advance of others in the region and this will be a tremendous advantage in the future as the north south axis grows in importance for our region and Port Alberta.

Our friendships with Latin America need to be advanced beyond informal relationships that exist with groups such as Kindness in Action.  Continued exploration of our relationship with Latin America means we should consider participating with organizations like the Canadian Council for the Americas.

Devon also has a CANMET facility; a World class research center that once primarily engaged in research surrounding coal.  Their mission is currently focused on the oil sands and dealing with issues such as tailings ponds.  Keeping the Devon CANMET facility on the leading edge of research is critical not just for our region, it is critical for our nation.

Given our geographical placement in one of the highest solar radiation areas in Canada, it is logical that an extension of photovoltaic and concentrated mirror solar energy, along with geothermal and wind energy would be viable candidates to explore.  Given the research capacity of the University of Alberta and the need for Alberta and Canada to invest in innovation, it is my belief that genuine progress can be made to create additional research capacity in Devon. 

This kind of strategy translates to high paying jobs, new housing demand, increased business growth, and a diversification of our tax base in order to shift the burden away from residential taxpayers.  The creation of a more realistic mixture in our tax base creates a more equitable distribution of burden.  This is absolutely critical so that Devon can continue to grow and prosper without taxing our residents into a position where they have little option but to move elsewhere.

If we pursue a strategy of high end job development through research innovation, and we pursue solid blue collar and trade jobs through integration with the Asia Pacific Gateway... the mixture of these strategies will provide a thoughtful integration and vibrant cultural mix that will make Devon an even better place to live. 

I believe these factors combined with our magnificent location at the top of the River Valley Park and our incredible infrastructure for healthy living gives Devon more potential than any other municipality in the capital region.  The amazing potential of our residents combined with continued focus on the details along with solid strategic planning will result in moving Devon forward in so many ways. 

We can become one of the top 10 places to invest in Alberta and, in fact, all of Canada.

* None of this reflects the official viewpoint of the Town of Devon or the Town Council.  The above article is nothing more than an expression of my own thoughts.

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