Opinion

Bringing industry home to Cranbrook

 

As we move into the dog days of summer, the city tends to dip into a kind of torpor as it prepares for the advent of September when the kids are back in school and business can return to usual. However, this year business owners and residents seem concerned and more than a little agitated about where this city is going financially. As the city council prepares to receive guests and possible business investors from Wonju, South Korea this month, a look at where the city is going business-wise is in order.

Every week citizens and business owners will come into this office and offer opinions on what the city can do to achieve renewed prosperity. Inevitably, the conversation comes down to taxation and in particular, how the businesses of the city are taxed to ruin. “It’s an easy fix,” I’m told. “Cut the taxes and businesses will re-invest in people and infrastructure—problem solved.”

The problem with this basic principle is that is exactly what other municipalities have done around the province. In reading a report prepared for the BC Expert Panel on Business Tax Competitiveness entitled “Property Taxes and Competitiveness in British Columbia”, a report that compared 10 cities in the province, including Cranbrook, a few things become apparent.

The first thing that jumps out at the reader is that BC, as a whole, spends far less on its municipal services than most of Canada, a trend that probably comes from having lower municipal revenue than most of the other provinces because of a competitive tax rate.

Now Cranbrook is definitely not the city with the lowest tax rate in the province, but—and this brings me to the second point that made me think—its rate is lower, by far, than many of the cities in the province and the country. Just looking to our neighbour to the east, Alberta, we pay lower property taxes here and much lower municipal taxes in many cases.

So why isn’t light to medium industry flocking from Alberta to Cranbrook, the economic hub of the Kootenays? For an answer, I looked to the city’s Annual Report and its major economic initiatives. There are some good things there such as marketing the Airport Industrial Park, downtown revitalization, working to improve existing industrial land, developing an energy biomass sector and infrastructure investment.

There are also some items on the list that are a little “airy”, such as a smartphone app for business, and to “develop partnerships and collaborative approaches to marketing the region...” (you mean we don’t already?), and of course, the Asia Pacific Investment Initiative. That last point made the list because, well seriously, do you really think a business person from China will set up a manufacturing plant here?

A while ago, an individual came into this office and told me what it would take to get industry to move to Cranbrook. He said it was a simple solution, although hard in practice. “The mayor has to get in his car and drive,” he explained. “He’s got to go to every city within a thousand miles and sell them on Cranbrook, face-to-face.”

And while it could be the mayor, or a representative from the city, this meshes perfectly with advice from the Useful Community Development site, a blog written by city planners. “Approach business attraction through a campaign of thoughtfulness and attentiveness to needs. It requires outdoing the next guy or gal. The personal approach is best. Forget about the fancy presentations, attending expensive conferences to learn how to do it and pricey brochures. This is just about good interpersonal relationships and putting yourself in the other person’s shoes.”

Of course, if none of that works, the city will just have to see what it can do to help make existing Cranbrook industry more sustainable and profitable.

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