Ah, sibling rivalry. Residents of Edmonton and Calgary have always had strong feelings about their own cities - and often very negative ones about the other. The question isn't about which city is better, but rather which city is getting its groove on.
Years ago, Calgary established itself as the undisputed business and financial centre of Western Canada. In terms of head offices of corporate giants in Canada, Calgary is second only to Toronto. One glance at its skyline of gleaming high-rise towers would lead a visitor to mistake it for a much larger city such as Houston or Atlanta.
Edmonton has had to settle for being the provincial capital and having a better arts scene (although many would dispute this point). Both cities' CMA populations are just over a million, but Calgary has grown faster over the past few decades. The 1988 Olympic Winter Games was a pivotal turning point for Calgary in overtaking Edmonton.
That was then. Today, economic momentum in Alberta is shifting north.
Increasingly, Edmonton is the research and industrial workhorse of the province. The oil sands may be physically much farther north in Fort McMurray, but companies in and around Edmonton are the main service providers and manufacturers to that activity. That's going to accelerate in the next decade.
True, Calgary is still home to the corporate head offices and all those white-collar jobs related to Alberta's energy sector, but jobs were hit hard during the recession. Many of Calgary's energy giants are heavily exposed to natural gas - a sector being battered by low prices.
Just south of Edmonton's city limits sits Nisku, an industrial complex relatively unknown even within Alberta. But a quick Google Earth glance at Nisku gives you a sense of its massive scale. With a footprint as large as all of downtown Toronto from the waterfront to Forest Hill, it's one of the largest industrial parks in the country. If you stacked up all of its warehouses, fabricating shops and industrial facilities on top of each other, you'd end up with something that easily rivals downtown Calgary in size and scope - just with fewer cappuccino bars.
As well as benefiting disproportionately from the booming oil sands, Edmonton has reignited its business prowess with the University of Alberta. Under its president, Indira Samarasekera, the U of A has established itself as a highly respected school with true linkages between scientific innovation and the GDP. Some of the pure academic types are not happy with this, but it's putting Edmonton on the business map.
Even in the province's rural heartland, the mix of industries is favouring northern Alberta. Agriculture in central and northern Alberta tilts toward crop farming, whereas Calgary and the south is cattle country. And these days, with the high Canadian dollar and limited access into the U.S. market, livestock farming is a tough business. Wheat and canola farmers around Edmonton are having a slightly easier go of it.
Throw in a new world-class art gallery, massive investments in health-care facilities, and the planet's second-largest Fringe Theatre Festival, and Edmonton is set for an economic and cultural renaissance. All this should help its bid for Expo 2017.
The recent municipal elections in both cities are telling. Calgarians, clearly unhappy with the status quo, voted in a young, fresh, energetic new mayor. Edmonton, on the other hand, returned its incumbent.
Of course, Calgary has nothing to worry about in terms of losing its title of Western Canada's business centre. It's a great city with many of its own charms. Personal income, housing prices and education levels in Calgary are solidly higher than in Edmonton. Calgary likes to think it's looking at its rival in its rear-view mirror. But Cowtown should heed the warning: Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear.
Todd Hirsch is a Calgary-based senior economist at ATB Financial. The opinions expressed are his own.