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Calgary 1894 Clock Monument. With the +15 Walkway as the background

As a long-time Calgarian and businessman, I am compelled to say that our present economic situation, together with our future prospects, are a great concern and priority for me.

The disruptive digital economy is truly upon us and our world is changing with increased velocity.

Last month, the grocery retailer Sobeys announced it was laying off 20 per cent of its 4,000 employees across Canada. About 170 of those lost jobs are in Calgary. The reason the company cited was telling – they must become more cost effective as they prepare for the digital economy. 

This is not some high-flying tech company or industrial conglomerate, it’s the grocery store.

Sobeys is just one small example of the challenges we face. Disruptive change globally is impacting many of the industries that have been the foundation of our economic prosperity for decades.

In this new and highly uncertain environment, it’s an enormously dangerous strategy to sit idle and hope higher energy prices will once again bail us out. That era is over. As the new digital economy unfolds, it is producing a largely jobless recovery in Calgary as our energy industry remains a global leader but adjusts to the new economic reality. We need to embrace the opportunities in this uncertainty.

Other levels of government cannot be counted upon to resolve our challenges. In many ways, they are ours and ours alone. Calgarians have made it clear that they expect City Council to show the leadership to guide us to sustained recovery and long-term growth.

We need – now, more than at any time I can remember – strong, visionary and committed leadership to leverage our resilient, entrepreneurial culture and “can-do” attitude. We need to move urgently – this is truly an “all hands on deck” moment in Calgary’s economic history.

To some degree, every city in North America faces similar challenges to those we face. The competition for brains, vision and capital is fierce and it will become even more challenging as significant portions of traditional jobs will be lost to digital technology.

We must have both the intellectual and fiscal tools to compete with other cities that have dedicated the resources necessary to be a serious player in attracting investment, while retaining our own industries and major employers.

Calgary and City Council must act. I strongly support increasing the Economic Development Investment Fund (EDIF) that Council established in June with $10 million, by an additional $90 million. This initiative doesn’t add to our tax burden and anything less, frankly, is not going to get the job done.

In fact, as the $100-million program proves to be a catalyst for economic and employment growth, I think additional funds may well be warranted in the future.

As a member of the EDIF Steering Committee for Calgary Economic Development, I am satisfied all the appropriate diligence, oversight and approval processes are being developed to ensure the appropriate investments will be made for the benefit our citizens.

I have urged Council to support increasing the Economic Development Investment Fund because it is absolutely the right thing to do for the benefit of our City. We must act now. And we must understand if we do not manage this challenge with energy, commitment and skill, this challenge will manage us to our great detriment.

Jim Gray is the Chairman of the Energy Group at Brookfield Asset Management and a member of the Canadian Business Hall of Fame.

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