This feature first appeared in the Calgary Herald on May 6, 2020.
As we take the first tentative steps to reopen our economy in a COVID-19 world, it is critical that Calgary also progresses along our longer-term road to recovery.
The public health crisis that has created distress and hardship worldwide may be uncharted territory, but the broader challenges of a structural change to the economy is something Calgarians were addressing even before the pandemic.
We are well aware of the harsh realities of a “new normal.”
COVID-19 is not our only crisis. The unprecedented collapse in oil prices in an oversupplied, and highly politicized, global market is devastating to an already battered energy sector that is at the core of our economy.
The extraordinary speed at which these twin crises emerged, with devastating consequences, reinforces that we must also respond in real time. Overcoming challenges that we have not experienced since The Great Depression requires a comprehensive strategy to accelerate our recovery.
Calgary in the New Economy is an economic strategy developed prior to COVID-19, but it applies now more than ever. It was developed by Calgarians during a lengthy economic downturn and structural change in the oil and gas industry, and assumes volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity will be the new normal.
In the new economy, the ABCs for business success are agile, bold and creative. The companies and people who are most adaptable will survive and flourish.
The pandemic and restructuring of the energy sector will force businesses, governments and educators to develop new ways to address challenges. It’s also likely to accelerate a shift to the digital economy — which is at the core of Calgary in the New Economy.
New economy is not our term. It is used to describe Industry 4.0 or the Fourth Industrial Revolution; the connection of physical and digital objects and the inter- connectivity that allows companies to have real-time data, boost productivity, improve predictability and drive growth.
There is a profound application of these advanced technologies in the industries where Calgary excels.
As a road map to our future, Calgary in the New Economy focuses on four factors that shape success: Talent, Innovation, Place and Business Environment.
Now, more than ever, there is societal value in its vision for Calgary: “We em- brace advanced technology to solve the world’s greatest challenges — cleaner energy, safe and secure food, the efficient movement of goods and people, and better health solutions.”
Consider the current state of the COVID-19 world: a global health pandemic required fast and efficient health solutions. Food security and international supply chains were threatened and needed innovative platforms.
Widely distributed workforces rely on tech- enabled business functions and basic human needs accelerated the demand for more online connections and content.
The oil price crash underscored the need for even lower cost of operations.
The market will continue to demand what Calgary companies can provide better than our competitors. We can be disruptors in the new economy, not the disrupted.
With a vision developed around application of advanced technology, building on our established competitive advantage in industries including energy, agribusiness, transportation and logistics and fast-growing growth in sectors such as life sciences, fintech and creative industries, is within our reach.
It is an economic strategy for our times.
I would echo the sentiments of Premier Jason Kenney when he stated on Twitter last month: “Tech isn’t an industry, it is the future of every industry, & a key part of Alberta’s diversification.”
Calgary Economic Development released a study last year that forecast companies would spend $18.4 billion on digital transformation in our core industrial sectors in Alberta through 2022. Another study forecasted a need to fill more than 77,000 new tech jobs in Alberta by 2023 — half of those in Calgary.
Our organization has sharpened its focus on filling the digital skills gap so Calgarians are recipients of the jobs from increasingly innovative companies
It is going to take a coordinated and sustained effort to restore economic growth and create new jobs, but we are building from a strong foundation.
Our energy companies set global standards in environmental, social and governance performance and our clean tech sector is home to some of Canada’s most promising companies. The sector is inspired by organizations such as the Clean Resource Innovation Network through its work to deliver transformative digital technology solutions for a competitive, low- carbon oil and gas industry.
When ranked against key comparators, Calgary is the most cost-competitive city for food and beverage processing. With greater use of technology, Calgary has an opportunity to be the distribution hub of value- added agriculture for Western Canada. We are home to a growing cluster of global crop science and the Olds College Smart Farm in the Calgary-Olds agribusiness corridor enables companies to test technologies, develop talent and create new companies.
Transportation and logistics
Home to tech-savvy companies such as WestJet Airlines, Trimac and CP Rail, Calgary is ideally positioned to be Western Canada’s major inland port, with Canada’s fourth busiest airport as well as extensive rail and highway networks.
The Calgary Region is a well- connected hub for distribution centres. We were also one of the first major cities in North America to allow mass testing of commercial drones, which strengthens several sectors requiring data collection and processing.
Our city is seeing an exponential growth of life sciences companies; with almost half the 125 companies founded in the province in the past five years. The International Microbiome Centre at the University of Calgary is finding better ways to diagnose and treat illnesses, the Calgary Cancer Centre will be a world-class facility when it opens, and the Life Sciences Innovation Hub is set to incubate companies in areas such as medical and bio technologies.
The post-secondary institutions in our city and province have produced the brains behind the computer language program Java and ride-sharing service Uber. It is one of our hidden advantages and establishing the Alberta Innovation Corridor from Calgary to Edmonton will create opportunities for others.
We can build on the exceptional work in cyber security and quantum computing at the University of Calgary; the artificial intelligence/machine learning at the University of Alberta that is ranked third glob- ally and the school of Digital Technology opening at SAIT.
From energy and our other industrial sectors to one of Canada’s only centralized health-access systems, Calgary has an opportunity to be a global leader in the Internet of Things and Big Data.
With Alberta’s traditional economic strengths and a focused commitment to support innovation and technology from all orders of government, this could be our time to truly shine. Prospering in the new normal will depend on our embracing the ambitions of Calgary in the New Economy.
Mary Moran is president and chief executive officer of Calgary Economic Development.