Q: What assets does Edmonton have that make it attractive for FDI?
A: The city has surged to be now the fifth largest in the country, surpassing Ottawa within the past couple of years, on a metropolitan basis. It is the youngest major city in the country and has six post-secondary institutions churning out 10,000 graduates a year.
So it’s all about human capital, which is where Edmonton shines. The work that we do here ranges from healthcare to finance, insurance and real estate. We are the financial capital of western Canada, with more than $100bn under management of the different institutions in the city.
There is a lot of manufacturing and logistics here as well, connected to oil and gas but also serving mining, forestry, agriculture and resources. Although oil investment has slowed down, there are still a lot of innovative things happening in natural gas, for example, and diamond mining in the Northwest Territories.
So Edmonton is the hub for a much larger catchment than other metropolitan areas in the country. And with people in all of those different industries, we actually have a much more diversified economy than people would expect, and it really is because of the human capital.
Another thing that attracts people here is that incomes are higher than the national average and housing is less expensive than the other top five Canadian cities. We have a very high disposable income, which in turn supports a bustling arts community and an extraordinary culinary scene for a city of our size. So in addition to the economic opportunities, there is a phenomenal arts and culture scene, and a food and outdoor-living lifestyle that people fall in love with once they find it.
Q: Is the population growth coming from people migrating from elsewhere or is there some organic growth too?
A: It’s all of the above. We have had a baby boom in the past couple of years because it’s a younger city. We have had international immigration of both of skilled labour coming here to work and the technical side of things – but also, Canada has been very welcoming to refugees from other parts of the world. And there has been a lot of migration within Alberta and Canada to Edmonton for economic opportunity.
We have seen that slow down because of lower oil prices but we haven’t seen it stop. The city has continued to grow and has been the fastest growing city in the country over the past five years.
Q: With the oil price slowing down, did it spur any new action to try to diversify the city's economy even more?
A: We have been focused on diversification for a long time here, knowing that the oil and gas industry has fuelled our prosperity and will continue to because there is still decades, if not generations, of work to do with the existing investment.
One distinction that I like to point out is that Calgary is very much the deal-flow centre for new capital expenditure in oil and gas but Edmonton is where things get implemented, and operated and maintained, and ultimately remediated from. So Calgary does the deal and Edmonton has 50 years’ worth of work to do after that.
That has really buffered us. It’s highly technical work, whether it is environmental science to reduce water consumption or greenhouse gas intensity in operations or whether it’s advanced materials and metallurgy to support the durability of infrastructure in industrial processes and harsh climates.
Edmonton is where a lot of that engineering and problem solving and innovation occurs. And that comes with export opportunities to other markets in oil and gas. But also there is the prospect of transferability of particularly some of the work that we are doing around advanced materials and nanotechnology into other fields.
That has been part of the strategy for a long time. There is no doubt the imperative in terms of new economic growth and jobs is going to be more on the knowledge base in the long term. But that is an area of strength for us and, in that sense, our prospects look very positive.