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Innisfail’s Power of Place set for overdrive

Town of Innisfail finally adopts long-awaited focused economic development plan that’s driven by the community and designed for future independence
MVT Innisfail Main Street 2022
The future economic prospects for downtown Innisfail and the rest of the community could soon receive a boost through the new Innisfail Economic Development Strategy & Tactical Plan that was recently adopted by town council. The strategy and tactical plan, also known as Power of Place, promises to evolve into an independent entity that will shape the town's economic development future. Johnnie Bachusky/MVP Staff

INNISFAIL – The municipality is finally set to move confidently in the future with a focused economic development plan that will ultimately be overseen by a stand-alone community-governed organization at arms length to top local bureaucrats and elected officials.

The process for the Power of Place initiative began a year ago when Town of Innisfail administration assembled a select group of community leaders with diverse perspectives to create a new path to strengthen the local economy.

With council support, a formal advisory group was struck to oversee the development and implementation of a community economic development plan (CEDP). The six-member advisory group is chaired by Patricia Bourne, retired and respected longtime chief executive officer of EQUS.

To guide the advisory group, the town retained the services of Factor 5 Group, an award-winning Calgary consulting firm that offers communities expertise and guidance to shape their economic development futures. The town’s cost for that consulting service for the first year was $48,200.

In the project’s next phase, a community economic development strategy and tactical plan was developed based on extensive background research, community engagement through resident and business surveys, strategic planning workshops with the advisory group, and through consultation with town staff.

On March 7, Eric Burton, the company’s president and chief executive officer, presented the 42-page Innisfail Economic Development Strategy & Tactical Plan, which the company proudly calls Power of Place.

A week later on March 14, town council unanimously adopted Power of Place at its regular meeting. Administration was directed to begin its implementation.

“The strategy provides a framework for mobilizing resources around strategic principles and tactics, while responding to ever changing provincial, national, and global conditions,” said Gordon Shaw, the town’s manager of community development service, in his March 14 report.

Council was told the strategy focused on leveraging the existing economic base, available land and local expertise in electricity generation and distribution to build industry clusters.

“Implementation of this strategy by the town through the community is intended to create a competitive advantage for local business and attract investment into a wide range of industries that are seeking reliable sources of electricity such as advanced manufacturing and agri-business,” said Shaw.

He added the governance of the CEDP will be led by council with formal input from the community through the advisory group and executed by the town’s senior management.

“The strategy suggests that an independent entity could be in place within a period of three to four years from initializing the process,” said Shaw, adding the entity evolves into a “tactical, stand-alone entity at arms length to council and administration.”

Meghan Jenkins, the town’s community services director, said she and Shaw will resume work with Factor 5 and the advisory group at the next meeting later this month.

She said work will begin on the first three action items, including the creation of a memorandum of understanding with the Innisfail & District Chamber of Commerce. The advisory group will also conduct an investment readiness assessment.

“That is basically an evaluation of how quickly we could respond if somebody walks into the front door today and says, ‘this is what I need,” said Jenkins. “Do we have all that information readily at hand? How do we respond to those types of inquiries?”

She said the advisory group will then work on a communications strategy for the roll out of CEDS initiatives over the next three to four months.

“The idea is to build the capacity in the community. At some point in time, we need Eric’s expertise with this,” added Mayor Jean Barclay, who with Coun. Dale Dunham, are council’s representatives to the advisory group. The town confirmed to the Albertan last week it has entered into a second contract with Factor 5 Group at a cost of $30,000.

Barclay emphasized the new plan is just not about economic development or jobs but a “broader view” to recognize other components, such as social and the environment and having them work together.

She said a key issue in the past that blocked the town from moving forward and growing confidently on economic development was a clear focus.

“We can’t be all things to all people. When we take a look at this particular strategy it’s focused,” she said. “We are looking at energy, manufacturing, agri-food and retail. We’re focusing on those areas and what do we need to be able to do to help build out, to help expand businesses that are already operating in our community. But also, what are we missing?”

Barclay noted that numerous studies have been done over the past several years that have all been brought into Innisfail’s Power of Place plan, and used as a basis for the creation of the document.

“We know there are retail gaps in the community. We know that Innisfail has some wonderful expertise in the community, like EQUS and in the industrial park there’s a very high level of expertise,” she added. “How can we leverage that to help our community grow?”

While the town will be paying for external consulting fees in 2022, the advisory group will be looking at priorities during its first year and evaluating ones that can be done internally and those that need outside support.

“Once we go through this first year those will be numbers, we can take them to council in the fall for budget consideration for 2023,” said Jenkins.


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