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Back  |  March 06, 2015  | 

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The following is part of a larger story about small business in Canada's four largest cities. It appeared in the Globe and Mail on March 5, 2015.

 

Alberta's largest city might be known for its oil industry and corporate headquarters, but that's not how Mayor Naheed Nenshi sees it.

"The core business success in Calgary is not that there are some carbon atoms somewhere in the ground nearby," Mr. Nenshi says. In fact, the oil sands are actually quite far away. "You have to fly there," he says. "Those head offices could be anywhere." Instead, he says, "what we've created here is a true meritocracy."

It's not just big business, he says Calgary is "home of the largest number of startups per capita" in Canada. "People are always shocked about that." But they shouldn't be, he says.

Cutting red tape has been a priority for Mr. Nenshi and he takes pride in being recognized for it by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. His goal is to make "it much easier for small businesses to do business with the city," he says.

That means getting city staff to think "I am successful as a city employees, if the small business I'm working with is successful," Mr. Nenshi says.

He's also moving forward on a plan to gradually consolidate the city's standalone business tax with its non-residential property tax. "It's an administrative advantage," he says. He also calls the business tax unfair, saying "it was based more on assets than income."

But small business in Calgary do have some challenges. "We're absolutely facing a labour shortage," he says, "regardless of the price of oil." Because small businesses can’t necessarily compete on wages, the shortage hits them even harder.

The answer to that, Mr. Nenshi says, attracting people to the city and keeping them there through a high quality of life. "Great public spaces and great public transit are actually hard-nosed economic development strategies," he says.

*image courtesy of Calgary Economic Development (using Statistics Canada data) ​

Categories: Economic development; Interviews; Better economy; Cut Red Tape

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