Roundtable One Summary: June 17th

During the morning of June 17th we had the pleasure of welcoming several leaders from the public and non-profit sectors, to continue our ongoing conversation about Edmonton’s future economy. 

As you may recall, these discussions will ultimately help inform the creation of a new economic strategy for our city. In this first phase of work, we’re aiming to better understand what that economy should look like, and the crucial building blocks we need in place to get there.

Our latest discussions built upon the great conversations we had at our kick-off Summit – which you can read about here. At that Summit, dozens of Edmontonians shared their thoughts about the concepts of prosperity and resilience, and what those mean in terms of our economy.

This time around, we dug a bit deeper. With the goal of having a prosperous and resilient economy by 2050, we asked attendees to describe the attributes of that ideal economy.

Despite coming from diverse backgrounds, attendees described that ideal economy in remarkably consistent ways, including:

  • Less volatility. Rather than lurching between peaks and valleys, people would prefer smooth, steady growth. This would enable the city to remain prosperous no matter the price of natural resources. It would also help make for a more resilient city, as fewer families and communities might find themselves going from boom to bust.
  • Plenty of opportunity. Edmonton’s economy should offer lots of different opportunities in lots of different and diverse industries. This would support greater resilience and help in retaining the large amount of skilled talent that is generated by our city’s post-secondary institutions.
  • Expanded value-added industry. The Edmonton area should be a place where we move up the value chain as much as possible. Taking raw materials and turning them into more finished products would keep more jobs, opportunities and wealth here.
  • Vibrant and dynamic community. A prosperous and resilient economy feeds not only people’s wallets, but also their souls. Amenities like cultural institutions, sports and recreation, festivals and events are important for making our city a place where businesses and people want to invest, take root and grow.

Attendees were also invited to share their thoughts about what is needed to achieve the kind of economy they described. Specifically, they were asked to identify the elements that are essential for helping bring about that economy (or “drivers”); and identify any challenges that must be navigated in order to successfully do this (or “barriers”).

In the course of the discussion, four major ‘buckets’ of drivers and barriers emerged.

Markets. This has to do with customers whether they’re individual consumers, other businesses or industries. Ultimately, for Edmonton to have a prosperous and resilient economy, our city must have customers for the products and services we generate.

The essential drivers people identified here included:

  • Population density
  • Population growth
  • The ability to commercialize ideas efficiently
  • Access to national markets
  • Access to global markets.

They also identified the following barriers that need to be navigated:

  • Edmonton is not well known
  • There are inefficiencies in the local innovation ecosystem
  • Market access continues to be a challenge for some industries
  • We’re still quite “oil focused” in terms of our outlook
  • A lack of efficient transportation infrastructure.

Money and policy. A number of drivers and barriers fell into a category having to do with money (including revenues, costs and investment capital) and policy (such as regulations and rules). In many ways these two concepts are intertwined, since government policies can have profound influences on the costs of doing businesses and the ability of entrepreneurs to raise capital.

People identified these major drivers:

  • Good access to capital
  • Predictability of government policies
  • Regulatory efficiency.

They also identified several barriers in this area, specifically:

  • Bureaucracy at the municipal level
  • Misalignment between provincial and municipal policies
  • A growing tax burden on business
  • Risk aversion among local investors.

Quality of community. People, businesses and investors are attracted to places that offer a high quality of life. To be a city that has opportunity and diversity, Edmonton needs to be one that is attractive, welcoming, lively and fun.

People identified these as drivers:

  • High quality social infrastructure
  • High quality technical infrastructure
  • Sustainable cultural institutions
  • A sense of “buzz” or excitement.

The main barriers they identified were:

  • Natural challenges, such as a colder climate and forest fires
  • Limited sources of fundraising or revenue for cultural institutions.

Talent. The fourth bucket has to do with human resources. Attendees noted that one of our city’s strengths is that it’s home to multiple high-quality post-secondary institutions. However, there is a sense that we’re not as successful as we could be at leveraging this strength. Ideally, graduates from these institutions would stay local, apply their talents here, pursue ideas here, and build things here.

People identified the following as major drivers:

  • Good pipelines of talent for high-growth and specialized sectors
  • Industry champions in major sectors
  • Anchor companies in each industry or sector
  • Mentoring programs
  • Experiential programs (such as co-op programs) to train talent.

The following were barriers identified:

  • A lack of opportunities for graduates (causing them to leave the city)
  • A lack of mentoring and experiential programs
  • A misalignment between the talent needed by industry and the talent being generated by post-secondary institutions.

While this session featured productive and enlightening discussions, we know it barely scratched the surface. We know that Edmontonians have a lot more to say about the essential drivers that are needed for their industry to prosperous and resilient, and the constraints to their industry grow that we need to bring down.

In the weeks ahead, we’ll be speaking with many more leaders from across the private and non-profit sectors to get their thoughts.

We also encourage you to give us your thoughts. Do you have anything to add to the lists above? Comment below and let us know!