Edmonton received a sparkling grade for economic growth, but it came with a warning that there could be consequences for the future if we don’t do more to diversify our business community.
At its annual luncheon Tuesday at the Shaw Conference Centre, Edmonton Economic Development Corporation President and CEO Ron Gilbertson praised Edmonton for its overall economic health, giving the city an overall A- grade.
The major reasons for the good grade? Over the last 25 years, Edmonton’s real personal income per capita has soared by 42 per cent, the highest gain in the country. Compare that to Vancouver’s 16 per cent gain and Toronto’s three per cent, ahem, “jump.” And our disposable income often goes towards retail items. Per capita, Edmontonians spend more on retail items than Torontonians, Vancouverites or Montrealers.
And, of Canada’s six major cities, Edmonton’s average house prices are the lowest.
Unemployment is less than six per cent, which is statistically close to what is considered full employment.
“I wish I could bring home a report card like this when I was in school,” said Gilbertson.
But Gilbertson also warned that if our economy remains strongly linked to oil, long-term “we could be in a lot of trouble.”
That sentiment was shared by Steve Petrone, the founder of Quantiam Technologies, which won the EEDC annual achievement award in the innovation category. Quantium has developed nanotechnology that helps the oil industry by allowing furnaces to burn hotter and produce less emissions. And, in his acceptance speech, he warned that Alberta “can do a lot better” when it comes to developing the nanotech business. From now until 2030, he said we have a unique window of opportunity in which to invest the money we make from oil.
“I hope we choose not to squander it,” he said.
Gilbertson said Edmonton business needs to recognize the changes in the global economy, and react to them. He said investors from around the world now recognize Edmonton and Alberta. “I know what it feels like to be the prettiest girl at the dance,” he added.
But, Alberta business needs to recognize that more exports will go to the emerging world, not the established world. The economies of industrialized Europe and Japan are, at best, stagnant. But he said that, over the next 10 years, three quarters of the world’s economic growth will come from the emerging world.
“The balance of power is shifting, and we have to adjust to that,” he said.
And, as poor nations emerge, that means more people than ever will transition from poverty to consumers. That means more iron, copper, forestry products, food and energy that will be needed.