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April 2015 Mayor's Column

As we on City Council approach the half-way point of our term later this year, we will be dedicating time to take stock of what we’ve accomplished so far as well as the important work that remains to be done.

Almost a year has passed since we formally approved the City Council 2014-17 Strategic Plan, which outlines the collective priorities we wish to achieve and address during our present term on council. We said from the outset that we view the Strategic Plan as a living document that may evolve to incorporate emerging issues or initiatives. With that in mind, Council members committed earlier this week to holding a working session together before July 31 for a detailed check-in on our Strategic Plan and to determine if it should reflect any new or changing priorities.

City Council is committed to making substantial improvements in citizen-focused governance, innovation and environmental stewardship. Our strategic plan is intended to help Council ensure Lethbridge is a safe, vibrant and prosperous city where all people can fully participate in community life.

Council’s six strategic goals are: (1) to strengthen the process of local governance; (2) to demonstrate financial stewardship; (3) to steward Lethbridge toward a well-designed city by ensuring quality urban design; (4) to foster a safe, healthy and vibrant community through inclusive policies, recreation and cultural opportunities and collaboration; (5) to take a leadership role in the protection and preservation of our natural environment in Lethbridge; and (6) to foster strong relationships with neighbouring communities through collaboration.

I’m pleased that much has been accomplished already toward these strategic goals. More than 30 actions and decisions we’ve taken in support of these goals are identified within the City of Lethbridge 2014 Annual Report, which was approved by Council earlier this week. The annual report is available at: www.lethbridge.ca/annualreport.

We’ve advocated successfully for our community on some very important issues, we’ve begun a thorough review of Council policies to ensure they reflect the current views of Council and the community, and we’ve provided enhanced opportunities for citizen engagement prior to our operating budget deliberations. In the area of financial stewardship, we’ve increased the frequency of financial reporting to Council and added new requirements for regular reporting from administration on performance measurement.

 We’ve introduced programs and incentives to enhance downtown vibrancy and to encourage new downtown residential development. We’ve approved technology upgrades for Lethbridge Transit to improve service reliability and access to real-time schedule information for riders, and we’ve taken initial steps toward streamlining City development processes and simplifying our land-use distinctions. We’ve also established a Tourism Committee to lead development of a destination management plan for our city.

We’ve initiated discussion on how to expand upon existing recycling and waste diversion efforts in our city, and we’ve initiated the development of a new River Valley Master Plan to guide how the Oldman River valley is used in the future, balancing residents’ desire to enjoy the valley with the need to preserve the area’s eco-diversity.

But we have much left to do. Council members are determined to do our utmost to ensure we achieve all of our strategic goals over the next two-and-a-half years for the benefit of our entire community. The Strategic Plan is a living document, and we invite you to review it at www.lethbridge.ca/councilstrategicplan and provide Council members with your feedback. 

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Although Lethbridge is not immune to the volatility of our resource-driven provincial economy, we do benefit from the relative stability of a diversified local economy compared to some other Alberta communities. This is not by luck or by accident.

Since establishing Economic Development Lethbridge (EDL) as the independent marketing arm of the City in 2003, Lethbridge has taken a strategic approach to promoting balanced economic growth. Although EDL is funded mainly by the City of Lethbridge, it is governed by a 25-member board of directors from within our community. Board members represent a diverse cross-section of our community, and they provide leadership which encourages the private and public sectors to undertake new programs, projects and business expansions that foster economic growth in Lethbridge and our surrounding region.

Coordinating our economic growth strategies under the umbrella of EDL provides opportunities for communication and collaboration. EDL offers services and support to businesses interested in launching or expanding their operations in Lethbridge. EDL also works hard to attract conventions and major business events to Lethbridge and to elevate the profile of Lethbridge and southern Alberta with our provincial and federal governments.

On average for the past five years, EDL has used its City funding to leverage 35 per cent in additional investment from private and public sector partners. Since its inception 12 years ago, EDL has won 20 provincial and national awards, including an award for Best Economic Development Project in Canada for tecconnect – an Alberta centre for new business development.

Efforts such as these provide more local career opportunities for graduates from Lethbridge College and the University of Lethbridge. As our regional economy has become more diversified, we have experienced steady, stable growth. This diversified economy helps insulate our city and region, to some extent, from the fluctuations of our province’s energy-based economy.

But there continue to be new opportunities to further diversify our economy. We will pursue these opportunities while ensuring we continue to foster growth of existing businesses and industries. One of our core economic strengths is agricultural production, research and processing, and this area is well supported by education programs offered by the University of Lethbridge and Lethbridge College.

EDL recently produced a white paper report examining labour trends and issues at the national, provincial and local levels. This report provides valuable insight into the sectors where demand for labour is greatest, the skills needed, and the challenges for employers in recruiting skilled employees. This is just the latest example of how EDL is providing value to our city.
Economic Development Lethbridge plays a valuable role in creating high-quality employment opportunities for our citizens and for graduates of our post-secondary institutions. 

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In closing, I want to note that City Council will be meeting this Monday, April 20 as Community Issues Committee to hear about a proposed strategy for how to increase diversion of non-residential waste from our landfill. This strategy was developed in consultation with the institutional, commercial, and industrial sectors of our community. I look forward to this important discussion, and I invite everyone in our community to follow it, either in person at city hall or via web streaming available at www.lethbridge.ca.