Representatives from the City of Airdrie and the local business community were at the Town and Country Centre on Nov. 22 for Airdrie Economic Development’s annual Business Breakfast and Economic Update.
Held annually, the event provides business stakeholders a snapshot of the strength of Airdrie’s economy and business sector. This year marked the first time since 2019 the breakfast was hosted in person, as it was held virtually in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mayor Peter Brown kicked off proceedings with an opening address, where he touched on the City’s upcoming budget deliberations, as well as the hardships the municipality continues to face in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Following Brown was Chief Administrative Officer Paul Schultz, whose talk focused on how the City will continue to adapt to the challenges presented by the pandemic, which has brought service level reductions, staffing cuts, and temporary facility closures.
“Like business, this has been a very challenging 19 months for the City of Airdrie, and probably the most challenging time for me as a leader in my 36-year career,” Schultz said.
“Over the past year and a half, the City has seen an interruption in service levels, and just like [the business community], we’ve had to adapt how we deliver our service and how we conduct our business, whether it’s through learning the new virtual environment, having meeting after meeting with a screen in front of you, or changing our protocols in the field to deliver critical services like fire, water services, and road services.”
According to Schultz, the City is anticipating COVID-19 to continue impacting the municipality’s finances until at least the second half of 2022, after which a slow economic recovery is expected and the municipality hopes to return to pre-pandemic staffing levels.
“We have presented our administration’s proposed budget for 2022 [and] the scenario we’re operating under is one of uncertainty,” he said.
The CAO added COVID will continue to negatively impact the City’s bottom line, adding pandemic measures will result in more than $2 million in expenditures on the City’s upcoming budget.
Unfortunately for the City, Schultz said, the municipality will see less support from higher levels of government next year than in previous years, adding to the municipality's financial hardships.
“Amidst all this, this City of ours has continued to amaze me, no matter what’s happening in the province,” he said. “We continue to grow, and we expect this growth to continue. Going forward, it will be so important for our municipal businesses to recover and rebuild after COVID, and continue to manage the significant growth this community continues to experience.”
Airdrie Economic Development’s team lead, Sara Chamberlain, followed Schultz. Her presentation delved into some of the City’s statistics pertaining to the local business sector in 2021, including the number of business licenses approved or cancelled this year, and the number of building permits issued for both residential and non-residential projects.
According to Chamberlain, 2021 has been much kinder on the business community than 2020 was. She said as of November, Airdrie has seen 40 home-based businesses in Airdrie close in 2021, compared to 177 home-based business closures in 2020.
Meanwhile, Chamberlain said 15 commercial businesses have closed in 2021, compared to 58 closures in 2020.
“We know it’s been a very trying time for every single one of you, especially those trying to lead a small, medium or large business through this,” she said, adding Airdrie has seen business closures across a variety of industries. She highlighted the closure of the Roxy Theatre as an example of a popular local business that shuttered in 2021.
On a positive note, Chamberlain said Airdrie’s business community is in a growth phase after a punishing 2020. She said the City has received more than 500 business licence applications in 2021, including 424 applications for new home-based businesses – a significant increase from prior years.
“If we look at new business activity, it really has been a busy year,” she said. “We’re set to surpass previous years’ numbers on the number of home-based [business licence applications, with] 420 home-based businesses already starting this year.”
“Of course, we know this probably has something to do with self-employment and the impact of layoffs,” she added.
In terms of the local labour force, Chamberlain said more than 400 jobs have been created in Airdrie this year thanks to the arrival of new businesses, though she acknowledged the city has also lost an uncertain number of jobs.
Chamberlain also touched on Airdrie’s construction boom, which has seen building permits issued for more than 450 homes this year, with a collective construction value of about $200 million.
The breakfast’s keynote speakers included Todd Hirsch, the vice-president and chief economist for ATB Financial, and and Jess Tetu, a serial philanthropist and entrepreneur in the beauty and spa industry.