City officials are applauding a recent report ranking Prince Albert in the top third of 133 cities across the world in cost competitiveness.
Prince Albert was ranked 14th and then 11th in Canada out of 32 cities in a study conducted by KPMG.
However, this has led to discussion about the need among Prince Albert city officials to look at ways to make the city even more cost competitive against other cities within Saskatchewan.
“When we look provincially there is some small differences, we’re the third largest city, we want to maintain that, that’s at risk,” said Merle Lacert, CEO of the Prince Albert and District Chamber of Commerce. “Moose Jaw is a fine city but they’re only a couple of thousand people behind us in population. Moose Jaw fared even better than Prince Albert.”
Lacert said it comes down to dollars and mostly cents.
While Prince Albert is taxing $1.88 per square footage for commercial lots, Moose Jaw is only taxing $1.25.
He added that there are a number of ways for the city to cut down on business taxes.
“The Chamber actually of course suggested many of them in our 2014 tax recommendations, everything from tax ratios, efficiencies and generating alternate revenue.”
Mayor Greg Dionne is of a different opinion.
“I don’t agree with that at all, you’re picking out one little item of the whole study,” said Dionne. “If that was the issue in the study, we would have been 50th or 40th.”
“Certain groups that support things that should be lower or different in PA, they’ll pick out those items. But when I look at the study I look at the overall picture.”
Dionne said taxes are an issue but there are other areas to look at trying to reduce as well.
“Taxation is one thing you always have to work on,” said Dionne. “But also our land pricing has to be in the right spot. You can attract business here if your land is priced right.”
One thing that both Dionne and Lacert both seem to agree on is the need for a second bridge in the city.
Lacert said that when officials restricted lane usage for repairs on the Diefenbaker Bridge in 2011-2012, that showed the possible economic impact that could become reality if more problems arise.
“When we had the issues with the bridge, a lot of the impacts of course fazed people within our community trying to commute back and forth,” said Lacert. “It also affected a lot of the transportation that was coming out of the North.”
Lacert said that if anything happened to the current bridge, which has already begun to show aging issues, that Prince Albert would feel the negative effects if traffic was forced to be rerouted.
Our bridge is the choke point for any of the transportation for let’s say the mining sector,” said Lacert. “So if we did have further issues and they had to reroute, that’s a huge consequence for us as a region, and I think moving forward we just have to have an infrastructure plan that will support all growth.”
He added this will ensure that this traffic will continue to filter through Prince Albert.
The mayor, who has been a strong advocate for a new bridge from the beginning, has a similar view.
“A big economic boost I still believe is if we have another northern bridge to service the North,” said Dionne. “A northern bridge would open economic development to the North, tourism; it would be great for the whole region.”
Although a recent speech from Saskatchewan’s Finance Minister Ken Krawetz during a luncheon in the city suggests that a second bridge in Prince Albert is not something that will be on the province’s radar for some time.
“We rely on ministries to bring forward their good ideas, and the ministry of highways has done an assessment of the current bridge, the assessment by highways officials is that the utilization isn’t there at the moment,” said Krawetz after a Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Monday.
“If we continue to see growth here in Prince Albert, will there be a day someday when there might be need for another bridge, absolutely, and that’s going to be something that highways are going to continue to assess on an ongoing basis.”
Right now, Prince Albert is also focused on building on its residential and economic growth.
“We continue to grow, we are positioned very well,” said Dionne. “When you look at some of the growth areas that we have like in retail, it’s just exploded the last couple years.”
Dionne added that partnerships with the RMs has allowed for more land to be allocated to growing commercial interest as well.
“Over the years there will likely always be inquiries that come in,” said Lacert. “We’re continuing to retract larger organizations; larger corporations are coming into Prince Albert.”
He added that working together, the region will more than likely see this growth continue.
“I think our community and our region as a whole is really optimistic about taking the next step, and having businesses that come in that will grow either our manufacturing or our industrial sectors.”
The 2013-14 study done by KPMG focused on businesses in various markets across the world utilizing information about costs based on factors including labour, taxes, real estate and utilities.
On Twitter: @journalistjim
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