Calgary plays the game
In our series, Can I see you in my office, we’re looking at head offices and the economic benefits they provide to both municipal and provincial economies. You can find part 1 in our Fall 2020 issue and part two in Spring 2021.
The city of Calgary. Often joked about as “Saskatchewan’s largest city” thanks to the sheer number of bunnyhug-wearers calling it home, Calgary is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to economic development. Despite the ups and downs of the oil and gas sector over the decades, Calgary beckons both new residents and businesses with seemingly relative ease.
The welcome mat
In March, Terrestrial Energy—a Canadian nuclear tech firm—announced that it will expand into Alberta, establishing an office in Calgary. The Ontario company was attracted to the city because of its reputation as a leader in the energy sector, plus the number of head offices, industrial base and “business-friendly environment.”
“Alberta is a global energy hub with a track record of pursuing innovation in energy markets,” said Simon Irish, CEO, Terrestrial Energy with the announcement of the expansion. “Today its industries are investigating the potential of nuclear innovation to deliver transformative changes, supported by the provincial government’s continued focus on innovation and growth.”
In February, Applexus Technologies announced it will open its Canadian headquarters in Calgary. Based in Washington State, the company also has offices in the United Kingdom, India and Sri Lanka. The company was attracted to Calgary in part by a $1.43 million grant from the Government of Alberta’s Investment Growth Fund (IGF). “The IGF award enables us to expand our presence in the country and bring new jobs to the region which will positively benefit the community—this will help us develop a stronger and more diversified presence,” said Sam Mathew, founder & CEO, Applexus Technologies with the announcement. The company worked with both Calgary Economic Development and Invest Alberta to make its decision on its Canadian expansion.
“The IGF is an Alberta-made approach to attract business outside the province and incentivize them to seriously consider the many advantages of doing business in Alberta,” said Minister Rajan Sawhney, Trade, Immigration and Multiculturalism when Applexus announced the move. “These incentives include low corporate taxes, a skilled and educated workforce, and easy access to international markets. We are thrilled that the IGF helped seal the deal for Applexus to set up shop in Calgary, helping further strengthen Alberta’s technology sector and create many new jobs.”
These announcements are on top of several from 2022, which included fintech firms Mphasis, Sidetrade, Xero and Binance selecting Calgary as the place for expansion into Canadian and North American markets.
In it to win it
So, how does Calgary attract expansions and head offices? Besides the provincial government’s IGF, the Opportunity Calgary Investment Fund (OCIF) also plays a role in spurring development. It’s a wholly-owned subsidiary of the City of Calgary, governed by an independent board of directors and managed by Calgary Economic Development. The $100 million fund was created in 2018 “to attract investment, drive innovation, and spur transformative economic development in the city.” So far, $77 million has been committed. According to the fund’s 2021 annual report, the investments will generate $355 million in economic activity over five years, create or retain over 1,900 skilled jobs and create or scale over 480 companies.
Among its recent projects is a collaboration with IBM. OCIF will “provide up to $5 million to support the opening and scaling of IBM’s Western Canada Client Innovation Centre (CIC) headquartered in Calgary focused on sustainability.” IBM earns the funding through achievements like the creation of at least 250 jobs.
“Developing a robust local talent stream is critical for a tech ecosystem to thrive, and this is an opportunity for Calgarians to acquire specialized skills with one of the world’s leading tech giants, strengthening our position as a hub for innovation,” said Brad Parry, CEO for OCIF when the announcement was made last June. “This investment creates a local pool of IBM-certified talent in fields that include application architects and developers, business and transformation analysts, data scientists and security experts.”
OCIF has also been involved with Neo Financial, the Calgary-based fintech firm that hit unicorn status ($1 billion valuation) in May 2022. “Neo Financial is a game-changer in Canada’s financial services sector and a great example of how companies can grow to unicorn level without having to leave Calgary,” said Parry in May. “It’s another sign of the maturation of our tech ecosystem and reinforces the value of the support from the Opportunity Calgary Investment Fund for organizations like Harvest Builders that help companies like Neo Financial scale successfully.”
Skin in the game
Calgary’s success in economic development is a combination of factors, but their commitment to financial support for ideas and businesses has been a game changer. The OCIF’s mission to be a catalyst for investment and innovation seems to be working.
Calgary Economic Development also champions its Team Calgary program, which brings together the city’s business community to help promote economic growth. Partners join the program through a variety of investment levels, and in turn receive brand recognition, access to networking opportunities and research, and the opportunity to help “set the economic agenda for the city.” The program is designed to both showcase and engage the city’s entrepreneurial community, showing potential investors what the city has to offer.