Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the city added more jobs than it lost in 2015. Photo by Cody Stuart/Managing Editor

Glass half full

Calgary Economic Development’s top boss promotes collaboration, innovation

On the heels of flooding, low oil prices and, now, raging wildfires, Calgary Economic Development’s top boss admits it might be easy for people in the province to see the glass half empty.

Yet Mary Moran, as well as other community leaders, urged those people to keep current conditions in perspective before claiming the end is near.

“These are historically challenging times for both Calgary and Alberta’s economy,” said CED’s president and CEO, who likened the province’s current situation to a game of Whac-a-Mole. “It seems we barely finished covering up the scars of the flood of 2013 when our number-one energy customer became our number-one very intense competitor.

“But collaboration and innovation will be critical to creating tomorrow’s energy and tomorrow’s Calgary. That mindset applies equally to the entrepreneurs in the fast-developing sectors of our economy like agri-business, renewables, clean-tech transportation and logistics, as well as film, TV and other creative industries.”

“We remain an incredibly prosperous place and an incredibly well-educated place, so if we can’t get this right, if we can’t craft our future in a time of economic downturn, nobody in the world can.”

Moran’s comments came earlier this week as CED issued its latest Report to the Community, which included details of the organization’s 10-year economic strategy, as well as discussions on how to address the changing economy and prosper in “Tomorrow’s Calgary.”

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi pointed out that while Calgary has been quietly diversifying since the 1980s, and that, despite current challenges in the economy, there is still plenty of reason for optimism.

“We remain an incredibly prosperous place and an incredibly well-educated place, so if we can’t get this right, if we can’t craft our future in a time of economic downturn, nobody in the world can,” he said. “The good news is that we can do it.”

Despite a downtown office vacancy rate hovering around 20 per cent and layoffs in the city’s core topping 21,000, CED’s report highlighted some of the positive stories to emerge since the organization rolled out its 10-year “Building on our Energy” economic strategy last year.

It noted the city welcomed 3,756 new businesses last year, a net increase of more than 1,300. Earlier this week, Calgary’s new film centre officially opened – a purpose-built $28.2-million facility with three modern soundstages that will allow film and television production companies to film year round in southern Alberta.

William F. White International – which provides production services and equipment for film, television, digital media and theatre – moved into the centre in November 2015 as the anchor tenant.

Film, TV and creative industries generated approximately $175 million in southern Alberta in 2015. Industry analysis indicates the film centre could be a catalyst to increase that total to $500 million in five years, said CED’s report.

As part of CED’s strategy, Moran stressed the need for Calgary citizens and businesses to advocate for not just the energy sector, but all local businesses. She also called for Calgarians to hire students when possible, as well as diversify and embrace innovation.

“Even with a 40 per cent drop in capital spending in Canada in the energy industry, this sector spent more than any other industry in the country by a long shot.”

She noted stories of doom and gloom need to put in the right context. Calgary’s GDP contracted by 2.4 per cent in 2015, according to Statistics Canada. Yet that decrease came after a period that saw the city’s GDP expand by 32.4 per cent from 2005 to 2014, she noted.

Moran suggested taking a similar mindset when looking at the energy sector.

“We are sharply aware of the fact investment is receding in the oil and gas industry around the world, but even with a 40 per cent drop in capital spending in Canada in the energy industry, this sector spent more than any other industry in the country by a long shot,” she said.

Nenshi noted that while Calgary’s unemployment rate is now higher than at any point since the 1980s, the city also created more jobs than it lost in 2015.

The city also continues to add to its population. According to Calgary Economic Development, 24,000 people moved to Calgary in 2015.

“People are continuing to move here and they’re continuing to find this a great place to live and to create opportunity,” said Nenshi.

To read CED’s full Report to Community, click here.

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