In late May, I had the opportunity to attend the Collision Conference in Toronto which is a large tech conference that brings together buyers and sellers of technology, alongside many of the world’s emerging technology companies. I was invited to be part of the Innovate Edmonton delegation and knowing that we have some major strengths in the tech area (ex: Edmonton is ranked 3rd globally in AI and Machine Learning Research) I thought this would be a good opportunity to learn about what is happening in other parts of Canada and across the world.
A week later, I attended the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) Conference in Quebec City. FCM’s membership is made up of municipalities from across the country and they account for 90% of all Canadians. This yearly conference provides an opportunity for elected representatives to learn from each other and apply those learnings in their own municipality.
I have attended every FCM and when I attend any conference my goal is to try and come away with at least one action item. Since these two were so close to one another, I found myself noticing a similar situation in both cities that I felt we should be more regularly discussing in Edmonton.
During the Collision Conference I was able to tour the MaRS Discovery District to learn more about how they are supporting startups in health, cleantech, fintech, and enterprise. I won’t go into detail here but I would encourage you to visit their site to learn more about the excellent work they are doing. I also learned more about the Innovation Corridor that is set up between the Toronto region and Waterloo region along with the innovation hubs that are in place in Quebec City and Montreal. One other interesting conversation I had was with representatives from the company TransPod which is working on Hyperloop technology for different corridors in Canada.
Getting to learn more about this work across the country was at first exciting. But as I started to think about it further, I started to get a bit concerned. If major cities like Toronto and Montreal need to work together with other regions in order to be competitive in a changing economy, then what chance does Edmonton and the Edmonton region have operating on our own in a global economy?
We are fortunate that all the municipalities in the Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board are now closely working together in all areas including economic development and the creation of Edmonton Global is another positive step forward in attracting and retaining businesses in the Edmonton region. This new collaborative focus is critical but after seeing what is happening in the rest of Canada and then researching what is happening in other parts of the world, I realize that we will not have long-term economic success operating as one city or one region.
So what do we do about this? Thankfully there is already some work underway to work with Calgary. Recently Innovate Edmonton and Platform Calgary came together to start working on a strategy for an innovation corridor. Considering that all industries are being impacted significantly by the tech sector and knowing that other cities are already well ahead of us when it comes to that collaboration, this is work that has to be advanced quickly to take advantage of some of our current strengths in areas like AI that I referenced above.
This work to strengthen our tech sector is encouraging. I believe we also have to look at the relationship between both the Edmonton and Calgary regions to determine how we can grow all industries while focusing on our different strengths. For example, Edmonton has a fantastic reputation when it comes to post-secondary institutions. The U of A, MacEwan University, NAIT, Concordia, King’s University, and Norquest work together with each other and each have their own speciality which means we have excellent talent graduating from post-secondary institutions every year. This talent is exactly what companies are looking for in a changing economy. They want a variety of people and every institution is able to contribute to the workforce of many companies in our two regions.
Although we don’t always like to admit it, Calgary has more direct flights to cities across the world and while Edmonton should continue to work to attract new direct flights, there may be value in working more closely with Calgary so instead of duplicating services, we can complement each other and get more total flights to locations across the world.
Calgary also has more corporate offices than Edmonton and at times, they have an easier time attracting foreign direct investment (FDI). With our leadership in AI and machine learning, it would be valuable to have a more direct relationship so that new startups can access seed, angel, and venture capital funding. Edmonton needs a larger investor network but we have the talent and a fantastic ecosystem for startups so working together with the Calgary region would allow us to increase both the total number of startups but also increase the number of companies that move up from the startup phase.
These are only a few of the ideas on how we could work together and I believe now is the perfect time to start engaging the Calgary region more directly on economic development. Our economy is shifting rapidly. I know many of us would want the pipeline to be built but chances are that even if it happens, we have to seriously prepare for a future economy that isn’t so reliant on our natural resources. That leaves us with a few choices. We can spend all our time and resources on our natural resource economy and hope that a new pipeline returns us to the boom days of the previous booms, or we can continue working to advance pipelines while concurrently working with the Calgary region to increase our focus on truly diversifying our economy since much of the rest of the world is already doing this.
For me, there is really only one option. In a global economy, we cannot work in isolation. We have shown that we are stronger when working with our partners from across the Edmonton region and with the work already underway between Innovate Edmonton and Platform Calgary, we should not only support that work but we must expand on it to develop an economy that is globally competitive.