Home Regular Contributors John Liston Are we Getting in our Own Way?

Are we Getting in our Own Way?

John Liston.

There has been a lot of talk about, and progress on, red tape reduction in Alberta. However, what we are discovering from our members at the Alberta Enterprise Group is this: members don’t necessarily want to reduce the number of regulations, they want to know there is a clear path to getting approved.

If you look the word “permit” up in the dictionary, it means to “give authorization or consent to do something.” In practice, however, it has evolved in Alberta that a permit is used as a mechanism to stop things from happening. It doesn’t have to be this way.

We go on regular Canada Connects Trade Missions to bring a little bit of Alberta to the world and to see how the world does business. Our last mission was to Nevada in 2018. Nevada is a case in point, where permitting is used to advance, promote and move a business idea into action. We visited the Tahoe Reno Industrial Complex, the brainchild of entrepreneur and businessman Lance Gilman. Lance has a bold presence and a can-do attitude. He wanted to bring Tesla founder Elon Musk to his business park as an anchor tenant. Musk blew him off initially, but with persistence he managed to secure a 15-minute meeting to make the pitch for Musk to set up his lithium battery factory at the business park. Musk initially said he wouldn’t consider it because it would take years to get approval.

Lance assembled a meeting with all the decision makers and approvers. The Mayor of Reno, a state government official and the fire chief all sat around a card table at a construction site to share Lance’s dream for the industrial park.

When Musk raised his objection, Lance told him they could get a permit for grading the site in seven days and they could get a building permit in 30 days. They now brag about this speed on their website with a joking line “you read that right.”

Tesla has now built Gigafactory 1 with partner Panasonic and they intend for it to be the largest building on the planet. The park is now home to 100 companies, including tech darlings like Google, Blockchains and Switch. The state’s fastest growing employee demographic is 18 to 25 year-olds, because they can leave their pricey 800 square foot apartment in Silicon Valley and buy a five acre ranch close the mountains while being 20 minutes from the Reno airport. They are located on a rail line that gives them easy access to major markets on the West Coast. The complex now employs over 25,000 people.

This culture shift was pioneered by Governor Brian Sandoval, who was in the office from 2011 to 2019. As Governor Sandoval told us, “My job is to teach the bureaucracy we are going to say yes, unless we have a good reason to say no.”

In Alberta, we start from a position of “we are going to make you jump through 12 hoops until you can convince us to say yes” (and they are subject to change). We’ve got it backwards expecting that businesses must be policed at every step. We have vast resources in Alberta. We have access to markets in California and Texas. We have access to glorious mountain parks. We could think of a dozen places where an entrepreneur could build a business park with Tesla as an anchor tenant.

The only thing standing in the way is ourselves.