Calgary continues to be an attractive place to do business yet we have to ensure our competitive advantages can continue to support the needs of an evolving economy. Calgary has strengths across sectors. Many of these have been operating under the shadow of Oil and Gas and have also had to weather the ups and downs of the global oil market.
There is lots of talk about diversifying the economy. This is true, but what this really means is that many industries which are affected by ups and downs, like retail and food (restaurants), have a better base of stability to rely upon for consistency. Retail and restaurant can also be part of our diversification strategy when done alongside the growth of other sectors.
The success of recreation, art, and food based businesses is contingent on the economic health of our city overall. Calgary continues to see growth in our tech based businesses and the City can continue to support growth in this area through key investments. There has been lots of talk around transforming vacant downtown office towers to residential but I’m wondering if we’re missing the mark on the transformation. Perhaps we need to look at the cultural structure of technology companies - should we instead be transforming existing office towers into layouts that support the open floor plan culture of technology based companies? By opening spaces up (ie taking down walls), towers can support a co-work model vision, creating spaces for actual co-work companies, or for small businesses to partner on spaces to lease in a shared environment.
This kind of transformation can benefit more than tech companies. Marketers, realtors, artists, consultants - these are all people who may seek an office space outside of their homes. Downtown needs to be filled with all kinds of companies. When we create collision opportunities, people get creative and innovative, they build relationships, and businesses flourish. I have spent the better part of a decade being part of and creating these opportunities, and I want to bring this thinking to our City. I will stress, this model should and can exist outside of downtown as well.
The need to attract outside companies who bring external talent and work cultures to Calgary is important alongside local growth. This helps us grow our mindset and brings senior talent in new sectors to mentor junior talent. Often companies experiencing growth are looking for a home base for their company which matches their value model. Much of that attraction is the environment, both literally as in our parks and green spaces, but as well the lifestyle opportunities, low cost of living, great recreation, and other factors which make cities livable - education, healthcare, travel. This is why I will always keep sight on what the next generation of workers is looking for in a city, transit, bike lanes, parks. I will explore external attraction and arts and tech in the next blog post, and where the City can play a key role in their growth and development.