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How will tech companies now work in Edmonton? Councillors hear update

Edmonton councillors will debate how best to support tech innovators and leaders.
Edmonton councillors will debate how best to support tech innovators and leaders. File/Getty Images

Editor’s note: This story originally stated the topic would be up for discussion at the committee meeting Tuesday. However, the meeting was moved to Thursday. The story has been updated.

Edmonton city council is trying to sort through the complicated maze of options that the city’s tech leaders laid out to them last October.

Organizations including Innovate-Edmonton (which is tied to EEDC), TEC-Edmonton (which also has ties to the U of A), Health City, Startup-Edmonton and others have various levels of board-driven oversight. The goal of the YEG Innovation Compass Report was to take these groups out of silos and have them all work together to grow Edmonton’s tech industry.

A key decision point will come Thursday at council’s executive committee. A lot of what currently is under the umbrella of Edmonton Economic Development Corporation (EEDC) could be shifted to the Edmonton-Global.

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READ MORE: Edmonton’s tech community says EEDC is hurting not helping

During last week’s city council meeting, Mayor Don Iveson acknowledged that the decision could light a fuse.

“If we are going to stack this much dynamite under this question, we might want to stack it in a different way.”

The collaborative concept was reviewed in the spring, and Councillor Andrew Knack is hoping to have these groups band together by the end of the year.

“The Compass Report, having read through it, has answered most of those questions through the engagement process,” he said at Tuesday’s meeting.

“The engagement piece is done.”

Council passed that motion, which will bring these groups together without them being bogged down as a government arm and the bureaucracy that comes with that.

Thursday’s discussion at executive committee will help clear up what the new technology group will formally look like.

Watch below (April 23, 2019): Some of the world’s brightest minds are in Edmonton for the SingularityU Canada Summit, exploring how technology, artificial intelligence and digital medicine can change the future. Kirsta Pawley from SingularityU and Tilly Lockey with Open Bionics explain.

Click to play video 'SingularityU Canada Summit hosting bright tech minds in Edmonton' SingularityU Canada Summit hosting bright tech minds in Edmonton
SingularityU Canada Summit hosting bright tech minds in Edmonton – Apr 23, 2019

Yet Councillor Michael Walters said the big picture of Metro Edmonton’s economic development strategy will need clearing up. The question of where the tech industry should be promoted needs to likely shift from EEDC to Edmonton-Global, he said.

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“So when that TEC Edmonton report came and had no mention of participation from Edmonton-Global I was yet again alarmed by the lack of willingness from one organization to cede some territory to another in the spirit of collaboration.

“So it’s like we’re playing Bureaucratic Risk,” he said during Tuesday’s council debate.

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

“They just continue to bake in the existing culture of what I see as partial obstinance to role clarity in the region.”

Walters has suggested in the past that EEDC remain, with a smaller portfolio, handling tourism and convention business.

Watch below (March 21, 2019): The future just got far more promising for an Edmonton-based tech startup. Margeaux Maron explains.

Click to play video 'Future gets brighter for Edmonton-based augmented reality firm' Future gets brighter for Edmonton-based augmented reality firm
Future gets brighter for Edmonton-based augmented reality firm – Mar 21, 2019

Individual tech companies raised some red flags last October that EEDC was not helping — and likely holding them back in trying to grow the economy. In his work plan, the city auditor has an audit of EEDC that’s to come later this year.

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READ MORE: Edmonton entrepreneurs forming council to advise on innovation budgets

That’s something else Councillor Sarah Hamilton wants to read to help sort this out.

“There is a lot coming back to us this fall on the innovation file. Having a sense of what the strategy is externally for innovation would probably help us make better decisions.”

“I totally understand and appreciate the value of having this discussion,” Iveson said. “I think there might be some other options and some other perspectives.”

He also told the council meeting that between then and Thursday’s executive committee, he would have a chance to touch base with the 13 mayors in Metro Edmonton.

Council has already asked that a big-picture update be presented to them by Dec. 2. The Sept. 3 meeting will tell them the best way to get on track.