Mayor, City of Beaumont
When you think of Canada’s innovation hubs you might consider Vancouver, Toronto, or maybe even Waterloo. But what about Beaumont, AB? You could be forgiven for never having heard of this city, but there are some cool things happening there and it’s drawing interest from innovators across Canada and around the world.
Located just nine kilometres east of the Edmonton International Airport, Beaumont has 20,000 citizens and is known as one of the fastest-growing communities in Canada. The city is building a reputation as a place that’s open to new tech ideas and entrepreneurship, and its municipal government has a can-do attitude — it’s even poised to become one of North America’s first 10 Gigabit cities.
“Our council wanted to encourage non-residential growth in Beaumont. We didn’t want to be a bedroom community to Edmonton,” says Mayor John Stewart. “Alberta is still known largely as a resource-based economy, but we see a lot of advantages to being open to innovation and to being a disrupter.”
If someone has a vision, they can realize it here. If you have a great idea, come talk to us. We’ll figure out how to say ‘yes’ to it.John Stewart, Mayor of the City of Beaumont
Small enough to be nimble, big enough to be relevant
The advantages of Beaumont include a younger-than-average population, and one that’s highly-educated with high disposable income. Beaumont also has cultural cachet as one of Alberta’s few officially bilingual communities. For that 30-something who’s been living in Vancouver or Toronto, the proximity to Edmonton’s culture, sports, and nightlife gives them everything those larger centres do, but with a more affordable lifestyle.
Beaumont wants to be a city that can cultivate and commercialize new ideas and technology. To start, the municipal government got rid of the red tape and completely revamped its development and permitting processes to enable growth and business development. For example, instead of 37 land use zoning districts, there are now just seven.
The testing ground for the future
“We see ourselves a bit like a sandbox. Companies can come here and test innovative ideas and approaches,” says Stewart. “If someone has a vision, they can realize it here. If you have a great idea, come talk to us. We’ll figure out how to say ‘yes’ to it.”
Last year, Beaumont was the first city in Canada to integrate a driverless shuttle on its streets with the six-month Electric Autonomous pilot project. Stewart says there were no federal or provincial regulations for autonomous vehicles, but that didn’t stop the community from supporting the pilot. “We want to make sure concepts are safe and in the public interest, but sometimes when we’re risk-averse, we lose our place,” he says. “We want to be that testing ground. We want to prove it here, rather than see the technology show up elsewhere later.”
Several more pilots are coming to Beaumont, including smart kiosks and new paint technology that will simulate a three-dimensional crosswalk to enhance pedestrian safety. The city is also in conversations with partners to become Western Canada’s most connected city with the fastest broadband infrastructure available globally.
The city itself has adopted a culture of innovation by embracing risk-taking and encouraging different approaches. “We established a coworking space, which makes it easier for innovators to come here and test their ideas,” says Stewart. “If they land here and stay, that’s great.”