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Talent, economic growth at risk without Calgary affordability: Biz groups

Talent acquisition, retention, and retaining an affordability advantage are under threat without approval of Calgary’s housing strategy, local business and economic groups say.

Some of the city’s institutions also chimed in on the proposed Calgary housing strategy on Day 1 of the debate Thursday at the Community Development Committee, marking their support for the 60+ recommendations.

Calgary Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Deborah Yedlin said they rely heavily on promoting Calgary and Alberta’s affordability, diversity and talent.

“To continue to build our city and increase our diversity, we must vote to increase and diversify our housing stock. People need places to live,” she told councillors on Thursday.

“Calgary is at an inflection point. We must use this opportunity to course correct to sustain our affordability advantage to draw on the investment and the talent for our city to grow and continue to diversify.”

Yedlin said that increasing the diversity of housing stock in Calgary will make the city a more competitive place to do business. She said that was critical in the “race for talent and investment.”

Calgary Economic Development President and CEO Brad Parry said that it was imperative they have a clear story to differentiate Calgary from other cities in the world. He said, anecdotally, a recent conversation he’d had with a large corporation looking at Calgary for relocation evolved to the question of affordability and housing.

“We believe there has to be a coherent strategy for the long term. This is not a short-term conversation,” he said.

Parry pointed to the Economist Intelligence Unit rankings of best cities to live in, and while there are a number of factors that go into those rankings, it was important to improve affordability in a number of those areas.

Boosting Calgary’s innovation community

In a conversation last week, in advance of Calgary’s housing strategy debate, Jordan Pinkster with Platform Calgary said that entrepreneurs are the lifeblood of Calgary’s economy. Platform Calgary is an organization dedicated to supporting the growth of early and mid-staged entrepreneurs.

As Calgary’s tech and innovation economy continues to move forward, Pinkster said they want to make sure that the city is putting itself in the shoes of entrepreneurs.

“There’s a lot of capital, a lot of wealth kind of baked into our local economy here,” Pinkster told LWC.

“But for someone that’s just in the process of starting something new, affordability is front of mind for so many of those people.”

Pinkster said that as many of those entrepreneurs go through their company growth stages, they begin to look for talent. Pinkster cited a recent report from the CBRE Group, and it showed there are 50,000 tech jobs here in Calgary right now – and it’s growing rapidly.  

“We get a lot of tire kickers, either talent or entrepreneurs that are asking that question why Calgary? For years – I mean, the geographical location speaks for itself – but for years and years and years, we point to affordability as being the thing that sets us apart from anywhere else that you’d want to go. If we lose that competitive advantage, we’re going to start to miss out on some of those key opportunities to grow this ecosystem.”

Pinkster said there’s no specific measure in the housing strategy they support or oppose – they support the document overall. They’re looking at the bottom line of affordability for people looking to build a business here and make a home.

“Our vision our goal through Platform is to make Calgary the best place in the world for any anyone to grow, start, take on that entrepreneurial journey and build something,” he said.

“We see affordability as being a component to allow us to get to that stage.”

The conversation on Calgary’s housing strategy continues on Friday.