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Ten Years Together – Economic Transformation

Ten Years Together – Inclusion

Ten Years Together – Stories of Economic Transformation

We’ve been extraordinarily fortunate to have been home to the forces of Canada’s largest export industry since the 1940s. That’s a claim we still have and will have for some time, but Calgary has also been diversifying in a number of ways to make our economy more resilient for the future. 

We’re further along that path than we’ve ever been. In 2019, Calgary had a record year for venture capital investment as the world has begun taking notice of the innovation atmosphere that our city has always promoted. Of course, in 2018, The City of Calgary put together the Opportunity Calgary Investment Fund to further stimulate that economic diversification, tying our support of any ventures directly to the jobs that they create. One company that joined our city last year, Finger Foods, famously called Calgary, “The best opportunity (for a growing tech company) anywhere in the world right now.”

A lot goes into that. We know that we have to establish a place where people want to live if we’re going to attract the talent these companies need. We need a top-to-bottom approach that considers not only fostering the start-ups, but also supporting the secondary education providers in our city that will train the entrepreneurs and employees that will fulfill our goals of diversification. Finally, we know the value of shopping local and supporting those wealth-creating companies and individuals that are creating the jobs Calgarians need. 

We went out the community, and spoke to those that are on the ground, making these things happen. I thought you might be interested in their stories.

Economic diversification was always something we aspired to in Calgary, but during the boom years of oil and gas, the paydays of that industry made it difficult for businesses to compete for talent, says Thin Air Labs’ Jim Gibson.

“The reality was, I had three or four of my top software engineering talents get snapped up by one of the major (energy companies), who could pay 40-50% more, get Fridays off, and all that good stuff. In the early days, it was really challenging to build a high-performing technology company, because your talent was just absorbed by the dominant industry.”

But that also laid the groundwork for today’s innovation ecosystem growth.

“On the broader perspective, the energy sector has created extraordinary wealth in individuals, offices, and companies. The GDP per person in this province feeds one of the most important catalysts, which is capital, in individual hands and in investment funds.”

This was a sentiment echoed by Scott Gravelle of Attabotics.

“Having people that have confidence to invest in ideas they’re unfamiliar with is not common anywhere. The support of my country, my province, and my community made this possible. Attabotics would not have been possible in a strong energy economy.” 

He says that a focus now on great ideas and the people that have the drive to make them successful is where our future lies.

“We have to focus our efforts on where the energy really is, and it’s not in the ground, it’s in the people. I really, really hope that some great ideas come out of the great people that work at Attabotics in the future. And if they’re open to it, I’d be honoured and very, very excited for myself to invest in those ideas. 

“With Calgary’s depth of talent, depth of entrepreneurial spirit, as well as, what this is by many, many accounts one of the best places in the world, I’m really, really excited about for what this turning point can become for our city.”

The strength, talent, and innovation of the energy industry will continue to be a pillar of our local economic story. President and Country Chair of Shell Canada, Michael Crothers shares this insight.

“You have seen a lot of diversification outside the energy sector, but it’s partly related to it. There’s this whole development in Calgary around the IT sector and data and analytics. People talk about the digital revolution, but most of it centres around data. How you acquire it, how you use it, and how you automate its use to actually automating processes. Because of the capabilities, engineering, computer science, geophysics in our business, it’s been a great testing ground and proving ground for digital and analytical development. That’s starting to spin off, and you can see it affect other businesses. The ability to manipulate this enormous amount of information to optimize your business has been transferred to other parts of the Calgary economic sector, but has a lot of its roots in the energy sector.”

He further adds that the future of energy will be driven by the same people and companies that helped pioneer past great advances. 

“I had a chance to be part of the oilsands industry from scratch, right from the days of concept. Helping to build the facility, and lead the startup and run the facility.

“Now, you see this enormous push on clean tech. I see the opportunity for our sector to be part of that. That’s not only to reduce our current footprint in terms of carbon emissions, but also to make sure that our customers can get their emissions down.

“That’s renewable power and renewable fuels, hydrogen, and nature-based solutions. 

“Our goal is audacious, but it drives a lot change,” notes Crothers.

I’ve been saying for years that Calgary’s economy needs to be the home of energy in all its forms, and it will be an “all of the above” solution that will help us keep that pillar in place. With great leaders at the helm of not only our energy companies, but also these growing and established companies that are driving innovation here and globally, we’ve got something really special happening. 

But I want to jump back to Jim Gibson quickly, who, when asked why choose Calgary in this work-from-anywhere era, said this.

“I say to people, ‘You will never ever, in your career in your span of being involved in innovation, technology, and change, ever have the opportunity to be at the ground zero of the shift of a large and very powerful economic system like Calgary.’ If you were in Toronto during the Research in Motion days, or in Seattle during Microsoft days, you had a chance to be at that early stage. You’ll never get that opportunity to help shift the very fabric of how the economy works anywhere again. You just won’t.” 


Categories: Economic Transformation

This content represents the personal views and opinions of the Mayor and should not be taken as a statement of policy of The City of Calgary. The inclusion of any external content does not imply endorsement by The City of Calgary.