Edmonton City Council puts downtown innovation hub plan on hold

Edmonton city council, Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016. Vinesh Pratap, Global News

City council had some harsh words for the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation on Tuesday.

The words came after hearing complaints from the city’s tech industry last week alleging the EEDC hasn’t been managing taxpayer money well and accusing the organization of having a lack of knowledge about what they do as an industry.

The idea of an innovation hub has been put on ice by council. So has a marketing ploy and the creation of an innovation corridor that was to link to NAIT, through downtown and to the University of Alberta.

Last week’s message from tech companies seemed to resonate with individual city councillors who voted for the timeout on the innovation hub initiative.

The most vocal councillor on Tuesday was Sarah Hamilton. She said she was frustrated with not getting clear answers on who does what when it comes to three agencies: EEDC, Edmonton Global — an economic development entity to promote Metro Edmonton to international markets — and Alberta’s Industrial Heartland.

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“I think the reasonable question is, are we duplicating our efforts?” Hamilton told reporters. “We have no way of knowing because we haven’t got a clear picture of what we’re going to do, how we’re going to do it, who’s involved and how much it’s going to cost.

“We need to hold our corporations as accountable as we hold our utilities, as accountable as we hold our administration.”

Hamilton said she plans on taking her concerns one step further.

“I would ask audit committee to be putting an audit of EEDC, and Startup [Edmonton] and TEC [Edmonton] into its 2019 work plan.”

TEC Edmonton is a joint venture between EEDC and the U of A. Startup Edmonton is funded by the city and EEDC, as well as Alberta Innovates.

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The timeout called by city council on Tuesday wasn’t enough for Aris MD CEO Chandra Devam, who last week was part of a chorus of tech companies complaining about the situation.

“I think there should have been a decision,” Devam said. “I think enough of the community stepped up and said, ‘We don’t want this.'”

Devam wanted to see the city start from square one and create a new entity to provide the industry with something that works for them.

Among EEDC’s innovation hub plans was a real estate move that Kam Nemec of GreenGreen said would cost $1.5 million. It would create space for the innovation hub in the new Enbridge Tower, moving from the Mercer Building. Nemec said that’s another example of government trying to help government, but not thinking of the entrepreneur.

“Just on the TEC Edmonton website alone, they have 50 employees listed as under their directory,” he said. “You wonder how many of those people are drawing a salary, and you do the math on that. Under an $8-million budget, there’s 50 people to support.”

Council asked for a third-party review to watch over EEDC’s dealings.

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City manager Linda Cochrane said a review of several agencies is already underway and the early results could be before city councillors, as they serve as the shareholder of EEDC, next month.

EEDC is wholly owned by the city.

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