Edmonton development group explains hub strategy, tech plan ahead of shareholders meeting

Improbable, a video games tech company headquartered in London, England, is setting up an office in downtown Edmonton. Credit: Twitter/Improbable

After a couple of weeks of criticism at city hall from individuals in Edmonton’s tech sector and some members of city council, the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation has plans to bring those with some skin in the game together to brain storm on ways to capture gains in the industry.

EEDC president and CEO Derek Hudson said they’re looking to take advantage of the “level of energy” that they’ve picked up on in the past week with a series of workshops in the near future.

“There are scheduled conversations about the overall innovation system, that will be held over the next couple of months. As well, we’ve been directed by council to support the creation of an industry led innovation advisory council and we are in the process of doing that right now.”

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City councillors heard complaints from the industry that the EEDC was going ahead with its innovation plan, without entrepreneurial input that should have been given from them at the beginning.

“We did hear some concerns about not getting services, or them being difficult to use or whatever,” Hudson said. “What we’d really like to hear is constructive ideas about how the community can move forward. That doesn’t have to be directed to EEDC, that’s things that other members of the community system can work on as well.”

Hudson defended the work being done on the innovation hub. Space — estimated by industry observers as $1.5 million based on square footage in the Enbridge Tower — was being set aside to move there from what’s currently in the Mercer Building.

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Hudson said some in the industry were misinterpreting what the EEDC was working towards.

“The hub is a concept we wanted to test with the market, and in order to do that we needed to put some space on hold so we had something specific to talk about.

“So we put together a conditional lease deal with the manager of the building, and our view was to see how the market responds to that and see if we could get enough tenants and enough support to go ahead with that.”

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The board of the EEDC has been working with the board of Edmonton Global, which is the new economic development agency that was started earlier this year to represent the interests of all of the participating municipalities in the Metro Edmonton area, and whose mission it is to look internationally for business attraction and retention.

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City council, which is the sole shareholder of the EEDC will get an update on both agency’s mandates in a shareholders meeting on Nov. 8.

“Our strategy right now is to really focus on getting [Edmonton] Global stood up,” Mayor Don Iveson said. “The organization is less than a year old and it’s only just starting to hire its permanent staff.”

According to Hudson, the two groups have two different mandates.

“The purpose of Edmonton Global is to hunt as a pack, and so we’re part of that pack. We’re working with Edmonton Global and Edmonton Global is working out with the other member municipalities and other organizations on how that is going to happen.”

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Mayor Iveson also said council will get an update next week on the innovation hub.

“The innovation space is a pretty complicated space, but we’ve been doing a lot of work as it shifts and evolves to try to make sure that there’s a clear space for EEDC and that it has the right resources.”

It’s expected in that shareholders meeting, city councillors will ask several money questions about the EEDC, and its share of the city’s budget deliberations.

Last week Councillor Sarah Hamilton expressed concern about the $20 million council gives, and how value for money can be measured.

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