Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Saskatchewan goes fishing in Calgary's labour pool Add to ...

For two weeks, Calgary commuters have been bombarded with billboards and transit ads contrasting their overburdened, stressful existence with the pristine lifestyles of some unnamed utopia.

"Goodbye gridlock, hello home for dinner," say one teaser ad, showing a young dad pounding up the paving stones to his house. "Goodbye heavy debt, hello disposable income," says another, displaying another man in jeans striding along a lakeside dock.

Tuesday the veil is lifted on this hitherto unidentified urban paradise, and it lies 760 kilometres to the east of Calgary - in Regina.

The Hello Regina campaign is a bold bid by the Saskatchewan capital to close the labour gap exacerbated by the province's resources-fuelled economic growth - a surge underlined by the $40-billion bid by an Australian mining company for Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan.

"We're going through a bit of a boom here, and to ensure we have enough talent based on our economic growth, we need bodies - we need people," says Regina Mayor Pat Fiacco.

Where better to hunt than Calgary, which is brimming with Saskatchewan émigrés - as many as 250,000, according to some estimates. If that number is even remotely accurate, greater Calgary would rival Regina (population 200,000) and Saskatoon (250,000) as a home for Saskatchewanians.

This anomaly is the product of decades of migration by smart, ambitious Saskatchewan natives who could not find the jobs they coveted in their often economically inert province.

While Saskatchewan's population has been stuck around a million for years, Calgary, at 1.3 million, has bounded ahead of the entire province to the east.

But growth has its costs in urban sprawl and traffic congestion. Calgary has become like just any big city, while Regina still gives great lifestyle - and now good careers for returning expatriates, as well.

"We can say 'What we didn't have when you left is what we now have in spades,' and that's opportunity," says Larry Hiles, president of the Regina Regional Opportunities Commission. "And we have a great quality of life still here in Regina."

The campaign, if successful in Calgary, will shift to other cities. Regina has attempted such campaigns in the past, but lifestyle is the selling point now - cottage lakes within commuting distance of downtown, lower house prices (on average, a third lower), and much lighter mortgage commitments.

Add career paths that might be more streamlined than in bigger, more dog-eat-dog environments. "Goodbye cubicle, hello corner office," says one ad pitched at young professionals.

One new Regina resident who fits the profile is Brad Gourlay, 33, a marketing manager for Molson Coors Canada, and a Saskatchewan native who was lured back to his home province by a promotion.

But he also liked the idea of closer family support in raising a child. The bonus is the difference in his commuting time - 30 to 40 minutes one way in Calgary, he says, compared with a five-minute drive in Regina. In addition, he finds the networking easy in a city where everyone knows everyone else.

The intent of the ads is not to put down Calgary or other cities, but to get Regina's identity out there. "Calgary doesn't have any exclusive on getting people," Mayor Fiacco says. "We live in a very competitive world and to sit back and do nothing would mean I'm not doing my job."

The urgency is heightened by plans to develop Regina's Global Transportation Hub on land west of the city's airport. The current boom had caused a shortage of industrial land and threatened the city's hold on transportation firms and retail distribution centres.

With the hub taking shape, Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. is moving its overcrowded container yards to that area and other companies plan to follow. But this new "inland port" has also stretched demand for workers. At a recent job fair, the hub recruited 300 people, but Mr. Fiacco says it needs 300 more - soon.

The other component Regina desperately needs is entrepreneurs. Across Saskatchewan, about a third of owners of private companies will retire over the next decade, Mr. Hiles points out. New owners will have to emerge if the province is to keep these businesses.

A Regina delegation, including Mr. Fiacco and Mr. Hiles, travelled last week in China, making contacts for the transportation hub, but also raising awareness among would-be immigrant entrepreneurs.

One roadblock would be if the city and province were viewed as inhospitable toward foreign investors. Those concerns have surfaced amid Premier Brad Wall's demand that Ottawa block Melbourne-based BHP Billiton Ltd.'s proposed takeover of Potash Corp.

Mr. Fiacco says the central issue is not foreign investment, but rather the ownership of natural resources by the province and its people. More reflective of Saskatchewan's new spirit, he says, is the trade and labour accord the province has signed with Alberta and British Columbia.

Total cost of the ad campaign so far is $209,000, with creative work by the Regina office of agency McKim Cringan George. As the "reveal" part of the campaign is rolled out today, there will also be a social media follow-up and Regina "ambassadors" will talk up their city in Calgary's public places.

But Regina has its work cut out. From their offices in Calgary, young professionals can see the majestic Rockies; from their offices in Regina, they would see endless prairie.

"But you would also see a beautiful landscape, beautiful blue skies, and have the opportunity within 20 to 30 minutes to be at your cottage," Mr. Fiacco counters.

Besides, he says, you would be saving so much money in Regina that you'd be able to enjoy those mountains as much as Calgarians do.

 

In the know

Most popular videos »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular