The future of business in Airdrie, and the future of the city itself, was put under the spotlight at Airdrie’s first Economic Development and Investment Summit.
Hosted by Airdrie Economic Development and the City of Airdrie, the one-day event at the Hampton Inn & Suites brought in experts to discuss topics including how retail can adapt to the online world; sustainable development; how the City addresses future planning; and the value of placemaking and urban design. The event also included a presentation on the new 10-year Airdrie Economic Strategy.
“The summit was held to start the conversation in Airdrie about what Airdrie will look like in the future, and to have a discussion … about current and future trends,” says Sara Chamberlain, economic development officer and project manager. “There were two purposes: to talk about the economic strategy we’re developing … and also to get different groups in a room together to share ideas and connect.
“[The summit] was also to position Airdrie as a city looking to its future. We had outside investors and speakers from as far away as Toronto and Vancouver.”
Events such as the summit are important in growing “the realm of the non-residential part of the community,” says attendee Linda Bruce, Airdrie Chamber of Commerce president and former mayor. “We’d love to see industry grow and develop and help employ the people who live here [so they don’t] have to face the crawl into Calgary every day. It’s part of providing for the residents in their live-work-play aspect, but also providing economic growth for the city proper.”
Highlights for Bruce included the discussion on placemaking and discussion of the changing face of retail, though she personally doesn’t foresee traditional retailers going the way of the dodo just yet.
“How many years have we been hearing about how, with online shopping, stores will disappear and malls will disappear … and now you’re finding online businesses are creating small pop-ups and brick-and-mortar [locations],” Bruce says. “It spoke to me that it’s hard to get away from the physical.”
The Airdrie Economic Strategy covers the years 2017-2027 and aims to, among other goals, “support a diverse, innovative and sustainable business community,” while attracting new business and promoting entrepreneurship.
“We want Airdrie to be sustainable into the long term, where people can live, work and play right here,” says Chamberlain. “We want to make sure we’re creating a business and community environment that people will want to come to and stay in.”
The exact recommendations of the strategy are still being determined and have involved business and larger community consultation, but will incorporate attributes related to both economic development and placemaking – a concept that promotes a sense of community that draws people to live and do business. Chamberlain says the City could start working on recommendations from the strategy as early as January.
The summit is an example of the type of engagement that led Airdrie Economic Development to receive the 2016 Atlas Advertising High Performance Economic Development Award, an international prize celebrating best practices, says team leader Kent Rupert.
“This is the first time a Canadian city has been recognized for this [award],” says Rupert. “It’s full credit to my team – we’re having the conversations with business. We’re trying to understand what their needs are and their concerns are … whether it’s the summit or roundtables or our business visitation program and Business Satisfaction Survey.”
Chamberlain says there has been talk of hosting another summit after the success of this first event. “We do think a larger audience would be interested,” she says.
Learn more about the Airdrie Economic Strategy at airdrieeconomicstrategy.ca.