Candidates running in Calgary’s municipal election have spent the last few months making their pitch for the future of the city, and industry experts have identified several issues that many hope will be a priority once a new mayor and council are elected.
Calgary has long been known as the energy capital of Canada for its wealth of oil and gas expertise, and now other modes of energy production have sprouted from that sector as traditional oil and gas companies explore alternative energy options.
BluEarth has been headquartered in downtown Calgary for the past 11 years. The company of 130 people builds and operates wind, hydro and solar facilities across North America.
The company has even partnered with oil and gas giant Shell to build a wind energy production facility near Drumheller, northeast of Calgary.
“There are a lot of players that are partially meeting those goals of net-zero or reduced carbon by working with groups like BluEarth to generate clean power,” the company’s president and CEO Grant Arnold said. “Alberta is seeing tremendous growth in this sector, especially over the last two years.”
It’s stories like these that Calgary Economic Development said it wants to tell about the economic growth underway in the city as it works toward local economic diversification.
The organization focuses on attracting, retaining, and expanding capital companies and talent to the city through its ‘Calgary in the New Economy’ strategy.
“Calgary will always be the energy capital of Canada, it may look a little different, they may have a little bit of a different face, but at the end of the day energy will always be the core of what we do,” the organization’s interim CEO Brad Parry said. “It’s just a matter of rebalancing the portfolio a little bit now and letting some of these other sectors start to get some light and grow.”
Parry said the city has seen growth in several sectors, including agri-food, tech, life sciences, and financial technology.
According to Parry, there are currently more than 2,000 job opportunities in Calgary’s tech sector following several large corporations, like Infosys and Thrive by SVG Ventures, announcing the expansion of Canadian operations in the city.
“This helps to change that perception that we’re a one trick pony,” Parry said. “By having these big corporates here, allows us to attract these smaller companies. It’s almost like a hive effect, you can see this growth continue to happen.”
However, there is concern about young people leaving the province for work elsewhere, which has been characterized as a “brain drain.”
In the 12 months prior to June, Alberta saw it’s weakest population growth since the 1980’s, according to provincial data.
That provincial data also showed that, for the first time since 1971, Alberta no longer had the youngest median age among the provinces. Alberta’s median age is now 37.9 years, slightly older than Manitoba’s 37.8 years.
“We’re not attracting people in the first place, and a lot of the people who aren’t coming are youth. That is really going to have an effect on our workforce for the next generation,” Janet Lane, director of human capital at the Canada West Foundation, said. “That is a problem for employers, and especially at a time when we are trying to attract new employers and new investment to the province.”
Lane is currently working on a report studying the trend of young people leaving Alberta, and what can be done to attract and retain that young talent.
According to lane, Alberta’s population growth projections are largely due to immigration and new births in the province, and there is potential a gap in the workforce could be created as more Albertans grow older than 65.
“We’re losing talented young people to opportunities outside of this province. That is something that we would like to nip in the bud,” Lane said. “Now that we know that we’ve got a problem, we can start to figure out why and then how to reverse it.”
The city’s geographic growth has also made headlines in the months leading up to the election with the long public-hearings of the Guidebook for Great Communities, which was given back to administration as a living policy document. City council also voted against greenlighting 11 new community developments last year.
Alkarim Devani, the co-founder of local development firm RndSqr, said 90 per cent of new development in the city is in new outer communities, while only 10 per cent is in established neighbourhoods.
“These things need to exist in parallel. They both need to happen, but the question is at what pace and rate,” Devani told Global News.
RndSqr recently opened a new inner-city development in Marda Loop with 63 residential units above business spaces, which sits on the property of 3 former homes. Davani said the biggest challenges facing redevelopment in established areas is getting onside with those communities as well as the polarization around the density debate.
According to Davani, attracting and retaining talent and investment is intertwined with development in the city.
“When we struggle to bring density, the most sustainable type of development within our established neighbourhoods, that makes it very difficult when we’re having conversations about attracting folks and young people to come to our city, to choose to stay in our city, but we can’t find ways to provide housing for them in established neighbourhoods.” Davani said.
“Everyone is concerned about their property taxes and their business taxes, and we still have a hole in downtown. How are we going to fill that hole to make that burden easier, and how are we going to build these communities and a thriving downtown so developers come back and say ‘we want to invest in that city.’”
Calgarians will have their say when they head to the ballot box on October 18.