Mary Moran is president and chief executive officer of Calgary Economic Development.
Summer is prime time for Hollywood blockbusters depicting a dystopian future where everything is bad. But that's entertainment, not journalism.
A recent Globe and Mail article compared Calgary's current economic challenges to the decades-long decline to epic levels of poverty and urban decay in Detroit, the home of the U.S. auto industry. The Calgary-based author called it "a cautionary tale for Calgary."
Comparing and contrasting subjects can be effective storytelling. However, the worst-case scenario laid out by the author after asking if Calgary is too dependent on the oil and gas industry – therefore, "headed for a permanent bust" – doesn't reflect our situation.
The contrasts far outweigh the comparables here.
The enduring images of Detroit are of a crime-ridden, bankrupt and corrupt city divided by racial tension and pockmarked by burnt-out buildings and uninhabited neighbourhoods. That scenario doesn't begin to describe Calgary. This is a vibrant, safe and livable city that's experiencing a painful recession following a decade of unprecedented growth from the oil sands boom.
A writer could easily ask, "How can Calgary become the next Pittsburgh?" The Pennsylvania steel town is an example of a city identified with a single industry that transformed its economy and revived its fortunes. Detroit, meanwhile, is infamous for its failure to diversify as the auto industry worldwide transformed in the second half of the 20th century.
At Calgary Economic Development, we were promoting purposeful diversification when oil was selling at $100 (U.S.) a barrel. We're pursuing opportunities to produce oil and gas more cleanly along with growth in petrochemicals and renewables. Beyond energy, prospects in transportation and logistics, agribusiness and creative industries are helping to redefine Calgary's economy.
We're positioning Calgary as a talent hub able to export our expertise in math, engineering and science globally while retaining our talented work force.
While Detroit had long-standing issues with citizens abandoning the city for the suburbs, Calgary has been ranked among the world's five "most livable" cities by the Economist Intelligence Unit every year since 2009. Even in a recession, 84 per cent of Calgarians said in a recent citizen satisfaction survey that this is "a great place to make a life."
In June, 2015, The Globe published an article by Todd Hirsch, chief economist at ATB Financial, headlined, Why Calgary will not become Detroit on the Bow. Mr. Hirsch cited the city's legendary entrepreneurial spirit as an obvious advantage for Calgary as the energy sector evolves.
Studies by KPMG and Monitor Deloitte in the past year reiterated that a relatively low tax base and declining cost of doing business make Calgary a globally competitive city whose best attribute is its young, highly educated and globally connected population.
The City of Calgary is also financially stable and investing in infrastructure to spur productivity and create a better quality of life for people.
All cities face a range of complex economic and social concerns these days. In Calgary, low energy prices, falling capital investment and rising unemployment have created challenges for people, businesses and governments. A sense of optimism remains, nonetheless. More than two-thirds of the business owners and executives surveyed this spring for Calgary Economic Development and the Calgary Chamber of Commerce were "hopeful" about the future while acknowledging the fundamental change in the energy industry.
What will help Calgary emerge from this recession and realize our economic potential is access to global markets for our goods and services. In particular, the oil and gas produced here is under some of the most stringent environmental regulations in the world.
Calgarians can learn from the experience of Detroit and many other cities – not only the issues but also the often-inspiring ways they're resolving them. Calgary is taking on its challenges with an entrepreneurial zest and an innovative mindset to continually adapt and prosper. In fact, businesses seeking opportunity should really consider Calgary.