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This article was published 12/8/2017 (311 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
In their attempts to attract and retain businesses, the Wheat City has earned a competitive edge as it relates to the affordability of doing business, according to KPMG’s latest "Competitive Alternatives" report on how cities’ economic competitiveness stack up against each other.
Brandon sits at a cost index of 84.2, which is the lowest among those Canadian cities included in the report from Manitoba to the West Coast.
The closest comparable is Medicine Hat, Alta., at 84.6 and Winnipeg at 84.9.
This report by what City of Brandon director of economic development Sandy Trudel said is "an extremely reputable firm" doesn’t come as a surprise to business insiders, with Trudel adding that these results are consistent with recent years’ reports.
"Typically we’re kind of the leader of the pack in the Western Canada locales," she said, adding that between Brandon and Winnipeg’s degree of business affordability, the report carries a "great message" for the province as a whole.
The KPMG report accounts for various cost factors, including taxation, salaries and wages, facility costs, utility costs and other costs associated with running a business.
When it comes to what the city’s elected officials have control over, Mayor Rick Chrest said that the current incarnation of city council already has three years’ worth of city budgets to lean on as evidence they’re striving to keep the cost of doing business in Brandon competitive.
Their combined municipal property tax increase during the past three years, excluding education tax which they do not control, has been 1.66 per cent, he said.
This is less than the City of Winnipeg’s 2017 tax increase alone —a difference that might widen the competitive gap between the Manitoba cities.
Maintaining a competitive business climate is of central importance during each budget year’s deliberations, Chrest said, adding that unlike many other municipalities, the City of Brandon does not have a business tax on top of commercial property taxation, which he said the city’s elected officials have resisted the inclination to change.
"We’re in pretty good shape as it comes to the cost side," he said.
Westman Opportunities Leadership Group chair Ray Redfern has joined a growing collection of people who have banded together in recent months to bring a soybean processing plant to Manitoba, with a special focus on bringing one to Westman.
He said that the KPMG report is promising for Manitoba, and the City of Brandon in particular, and would help fuel the effort.
Still, he cautioned that the cost of construction is currently lower in Alberta, whose slumping oil industry has resulted in people who are eager to find work and has made the market more competitive.
Brandon Chamber of Commerce president Tami-Rae Rourke said that while the report offers a positive news item, the city’s competitive proximity to Winnipeg remains of concern.
"We need a more fluid and efficient way to get businesses into Brandon that can start up quickly; kind of remove some of the red tape policies," she said.
Reiterating the key message she conveyed when being installed as chamber president earlier this year, she said that improving Brandon’s economic climate will require the work and participation of various parties coming together.
Trudel said that while Brandon carries a slightly lower cost index for doing business than Winnipeg, other advantages such as a greater employment base and available services remains enough for some people to absorb the cost difference and set up shop in the province’s capital.
Still, certain industries occasionally find themselves drawn to smaller urban centres over larger centres for various reasons, she said, adding that Koch Fertilizer and Maple Leaf Foods have very different needs, "but they both made sense in our area."
Elite Safety Services Inc. co-owner Darren Brick said that his business is located in Brandon because "it’s home," but that the city’s affordability enabled last year’s expansion into a much larger facility than they previously held; one that he said they could not have afforded to build in Winnipeg.
Specializing in classroom, mobile and on-site safety training, the company also has satellite training office in the RM of Macdonald, situated just outside City of Winnipeg limits in order to save themselves some tax-related headaches.
By comparison, their 12,500-square-foot office and training centre is located within Brandon city limits.
Brandon isn’t without its shortcomings, he said, adding that his business could benefit from greater access to direct flights at the Brandon Municipal Airport, which would save them various road trips to Winnipeg.
Manitoba businesses in general would also benefit from the elimination of the Health and Post-Secondary Education Tax Levy, which is imposed on employers with a total remuneration of $1.25 million or greater.
Those with a total yearly payroll of between $1.25 million and $2.5 million are taxed at 4.3 per cent on the amount in excess of $1.25 million, while those with a payroll greater than $2.5 million are taxed at 2.15 per cent of total payroll.
A "ridiculous" tax, Brick said that it serves as a disadvantage in their competition against businesses from outside Manitoba that do not have to pay this form of taxation.
While it could stand to face some improvements, he said that Brandon has served his company well and that he anticipates more sunny ways ahead.
"Brandon basically has everything to run your business," Brick said.
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