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City identifies need for plan to reverse loss of non-residential tax payers

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A weather-worn sign advertising 18 acres of industrial land for sale in Edmonton's north east symbolizes the struggle the city has attracting industrial development.

The land is just a fraction of the nearly 50 square kilometres the city annexed more than a decade ago in a district dubbed the Edmonton Energy and Technology Park.

"We’d hoped that that would take off with petrochemical and plastics and things like that," Anand Pye, the chief executive officer of the Edmonton Commercial Real Estate Development Association, told CTV News Edmonton on Wednesday.

"We just haven’t seen that come into Edmonton specifically."

Pye says the city needs to do more to attract industrial business, adding just "0.1 per cent of the total industrial land area is serviced and ready to go for a business to move in tomorrow."

City data shows Edmonton's share of non-residential properties in the region has slid from 72 per cent in 2008 to 60 per cent in 2022.

Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi called the data "a wake-up call."

"If we don’t act now, we’re going to lose (and) continue to lose," he said on Wednesday during an executive committee meeting at city hall.

Retail businesses, offices, warehouses and other non-residential properties contribute half of the tax revenue the city collects to pay for the budget. With fewer businesses, those that remain -- and possibly homeowners -- pay more to balance the city's books.

City staff says Edmonton's non-residential tax rate is more than double the rate in the rest of the region.

"(Businesses) pay more and then they say, 'I can get a better deal literally across the street,' whether it’s in Acheson or Leduc County, Strathcona County or Sturgeon County" Sarah Hamilton, councillor for Ward Sipiwiyiniwak, said of moves that is creating a "spiral that is putting pressure not just on non-residential but the residential sector as well."

"I think everyone is feeling it now."

The city is working on a strategy to reverse the trend. Short-term, it will likely involve connecting empty industrial land to utilities and speeding up the permitting process, but it could take decades to regain what was lost.