Eco­nomic agency says it has brought 5,000 jobs to city in past two years

Calgary Herald - - CITY - REID SOUTH­WICK rsouth­wick@post­media.com

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.”

TODD KOROL/FILES

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.

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