Economic agency says it has brought 5,000 jobs to city in past two years
As Calgary’s economy remains in transition after a blistering recession, the city’s economic development agency says it has attracted and supported the expansion of 90 companies that have created more than 5,000 jobs in the past two years.
The gains are well above Calgary Economic Development’s target of working with 70 companies to create jobs over three years after an oil price collapse in 2014 triggered a recession that emptied downtown office towers.
The news came at Calgary Economic Development’s outlook for 2018, where economist Glen Hodgson said Calgary’s economy is “surging” this year as consumers opened their wallets in the recession’s wake, boosting retail sales by nine per cent over last year.
But the Conference Board of Canada’s senior fellow predicts modest growth of 2.1 per cent in 2018 and forecasts some gains in employment, though Calgary’s jobless rate is expected to remain above the national average.
“This is a return to moderation,” Hodgson told a crowd of more than 1,400 gathered at a downtown convention hall.
Calgary Economic Development has taken an aggressive approach to drumming up new business in a city that continues to post the second-highest unemployment rate in Canada among large urban centres, next to St. John’s, N.L.
Mary Moran, the group’s chief executive, said these efforts have helped to reel in some big fish, including an Amazon distribution centre that will bring 750 full-time jobs to a sprawling warehouse in Balzac.
The recruitment drive has also attracted technology firms such as Silicon Valley-based RocketSpace, which will add eight to 10 employees and provide co-working space for up to 1,000 startups while linking them to mentors and potential investors.
Moran said Swoop, WestJet’s new ultra low-cost carrier, wasn’t necessarily going to have its head office in Calgary, but “we worked with them to stay.” What the economic development agency has offered these companies to set up or expand in Calgary has varied, but some involved real estate plays or working with the city on permits, Moran said.
Despite these gains and economist forecasts that suggest the local economy is growing again, Mayor Naheed Nenshi said many Calgarians feel left behind.
“Far too many of our friends and neighbours feel the pain of unemployment; far too many are feeling uncertainty about the future,” Nenshi said, noting there is considerable work ahead to “nurture the fragile economic recovery.”
ATB Financial chief economist Todd Hirsch said the recession caused a big shift in Alberta’s economy. With oil prices hovering at roughly half of pre-recession levels, Hirsch said the energy sector will no longer fuel growth as it once did, but will serve as an economic backbone. Hirsch said this shift means the province and its largest city must adapt, suggesting Calgary should look at new opportunities in alternative energy, artificial intelligence and other technologies.
“We need to be listening to new ideas,” he said. “The better we are able to listen, the better we will be able to adapt to a new environment.”
Mary Moran, chief executive of Calgary Economic Development, said the group’s efforts have reeled in some big economic fish, including an Amazon distribution centre with 750 full-time positions.