Edmonton’s economy in 25 years? Let’s talk.

Edmonton’s future is exciting and it’s time we start shouting it from the rooftops – it’s the future that always matters the most. Our pasts and presents contain lessons, important traditions and give us strength for certain, but our future is what gets us out of bed every morning. Our future should be our purpose.

So What is Edmonton’s Future?

Where will Edmonton be in the next 25 years? If we’re thinking about the next 25 years, we need to stop focusing so keenly on the last 25. Our vision needs to line up with our attention. We need to ask this question fairly intentionally.

And hey, wouldn’t you know it, there is a provincial election underway where we should be talking about the future. But this election so far has been focused mostly on one industry and one pipeline.

While that industry and that pipeline are critical, it’s time to really think through the next 25 years of our economy and what will lead to a new generation of prosperity for our city and province. We can’t pretend we’re a single-industry town or province. Edmonton has so many amazing assets, that range from being the fastest growing and youngest major urban centre in Canada, to an amazing cluster of post-secondary institutions, to an attractive affordability where young people from Canada and across the globe can buy a home and start a family with an eye on a financially secure future.

What Matters Most

The next stage of Edmonton’s future is really the next stage of Alberta’s future. We need to be a city and a province that does two things extremely well.

  1. We need to be obsessive about attracting and retaining young, talented and educated people. They are entrepreneurs, teachers, professionals, thinkers and leaders who will shape and command our future. They will sustain us.
  2. We need to be committed to not just keeping up with the pace of change, but we need to be ahead of it.

This is why this election campaign falls short so far.

We hear our leaders only (or mostly) talking about pipelines. I haven’t heard enough talk about the importance of innovation as a driver of the economy and growth over the next 25 years. I haven’t heard about the value of investment in post-secondary institutions as an economic catalyst beyond a talking point here and there.

In 2017 I asked for a report that benchmarked Edmonton’s competitiveness against other similarly sized cities and the BIG answer we got back is that Alberta needs to be more committed to post-secondary education as a pathway to ensure a skilled, young workforce that will attract real investment to our city and province.

We need to talk about pipelines for sure. I grew up in the oil patch in the community of Drayton Valley before I moved to Edmonton to build my life. I know how my family and former neighbours are hurting. When I visit my Mom, I can see the dark edges of a community half shut down and people painfully out of work. I know this pain, as this was the pain my family lived through multiple times throughout my childhood.

But we need to talk about more than pipelines for bitumen – we need to talk about pipelines for data and technology. None of the parties are talking about making our large urban centres, like Edmonton, leaders in 5G (fifth generation) technology in Canada. Since personal and business information is mainly online and cyber security is an enormous challenge, why is no one talking about Edmonton as a national cybersecurity hub that could export this crucial service to the rest of the world and create thousands of new jobs right here? We need to talk about health innovation and commercialization of academic and science-based research which leads to more companies, more jobs and healthier citizens costing governments less in sick care. These ideas might not be the rights ones per say, but the right ideas start from leaders having these sorts of conversations and thinking about the best possible future for our people and our communities.

Regional Unity is our real muscle

I often ask the question – what does each dollar of public money we invest in economic development actually create in terms of private investment, new deals and new jobs?

A municipality’s role in economic development can be measured by a few important factors, such as how much or how little red tape exists in our city processes, and how much we invest in our economic development organizations.

Our investments in economic development must be more than reports about conferences and trade shows, and more than jargon. They need to show us a pathway to new entrepreneurs starting new companies and opening new offices/warehouses – hiring new employees, buying new desks, couches and coffee machines. We need to be deeply interested in established companies coming to and staying in Edmonton, employing the next generation, and helping us build the next economy because we created attractive conditions.

Think and act Edmonton Globally

Last term, Edmonton Global was conceived of and created. Edmonton Global is a regional effort to combine and focus economic development between the municipalities in the Edmonton Metro Region, in order to stop any competition with each other, and instead compete together with the world. Edmonton Global has assembled a highly diverse board of successful business leaders from across the region who in turn have assembled a talented management team. They have a strong vision, strong goals and are focused on the right strategic sectors to grow our economy and make sure we achieve the regional prosperity we seek.

While the City already has an Economic Development shareholder, the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation (EEDC), it must also be noted that one of four city goals is “Regional Prosperity.” Not Edmonton prosperity, but regional. So the essential mandate of EEDC is to contribute to and ensure the success of Edmonton Global.

Edmonton is not famous for “unity” in my view, even within our own corporate borders. It is now time for a profound unity in our city region that helps us look out 25 years and imagine a great economy and that can pull us together to achieve it.

This will give us the strength we need to keep our provincial government truly committed to our best interests no matter which party sits in the legislature.

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