Community leaders convene on Calgary’s economic action plan: Uplook

June 27, 2024

From left to right: Elder Jonathan Red Gun; Meaghon Reid, Executive Director, Vibrant Communities Calgary; Shawna Morning-Bull, Business Development Manager, Community Futures Treaty 7; Thom Mahler, Director, Downtown Strategy, The City of Calgary; Deana Haley, VP, Corporate Initiatives, Calgary Economic Development; Kate Koplovich, Director, Strategy, Calgary Economic Development; Geraldine Anderson, VP, External Affairs, Calgary Economic Development; and David Duckworth, Chief Administrative Officer, The City of Calgary. 

 Community organizations come together in Calgary to build a diversified economy and imagine the possibilities for the city 10, 20 and 50 years from now. 

At the second annual Assembly for Calgary’s Economic Strategy, community leaders gathered to reflect on the progress made in 2023 to build resiliency for Calgary’s economy and identify opportunities that lie ahead.  

Calgary’s economic action plan – Uplook 

Guiding this ongoing conversation is Calgary’s economic strategy 

The community-built plan is a dynamic framework for organizations in the city to intentionally, and collectively, work towards building economic prosperity for all Calgarians. 

Built with feedback from local businesses and community organizations, the plan identifies the vision for Calgary to be the place where bright minds and big ideas come together with an unmatched spirit to help solve global challenges. 

Previously called Calgary in the New Economy, the framework is now called Uplook: An Action Plan for Our Economy. Launched at the assembly, the new name for the strategy addresses the need for a more all-encompassing approach to Calgary’s future. 

“We’re still laser-focused on innovation, livability, talent, business environment and brand in Uplook,” said Geraldine Anderson, Vice President, Marketing, Communications, Strategy and Strategic Alliances, Calgary Economic Development at the Assembly. 

“But all of these focus areas are being leveraged to build the sort of resilience and prosperity that will make our city even greater than it already is.” 

At the core of the plan, organizations are focused on advancing meaningful action towards on Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Accessibility (EDIA) and Indigenous Reconciliation through the five focus areas. 

To measure progress, each focus area has several transformational initiatives, or tangible projects, that are moving the needle to build Calgary as a city where all people can thrive.  

2024 Annual Progress report highlights notable progress 

At the assembly and in the progress report, leaders reflected on 2023 as a year of unprecedented growth and investment. 

Calgary welcomed a record number of newcomers – nearly 100,000 people – and emerged as the fastest growing major city in the country. If the city’s growth rate of six per cent continues, Calgary’s population will double in 12 years. 

Attendees agreed that while growth brings new challenges to the city – including an increase in housing prices paired with battling nationwide inflation – there was meaningful work done to advance the economic action plan’s priorities. 

“While this is great news demonstrating that Calgary is a desirable place to call home, it’s also why it’s so important for us to collaborate to build the infrastructure and provide the services needed to support the future of our city and citizens,” said David Duckworth, Chief Administrative Officer at The City of Calgary. 

“When we pool our resources, knowledge, and passion, we can achieve extraordinary things.  And we have a lot to show for our collective efforts over the last year.” 

Calgary remains among the top 10 most livable cities in the world 

Duckworth nodded to the future-focused plans in place to address some of these complex problems that impact Calgarians’ ability to build a meaningful life, including The City of Calgary’s Home is Here Housing Strategy, the Climate Strategy: Pathways to 2050 and the Downtown Strategy 

In the last year, the plans turned into results.  

The first of 17 planned office conversions – The Cornerstone on 5th Ave SW – is now complete, and shovels broke ground on major revitalization projects in downtown Calgary with the expansion of Arts Commons, redevelopment of Stephen Ave, redesign of Olympic Plaza and the extension of the popular RiverWalk pathway. 

“To us, the definition of vibrancy means there’s something for everyone in downtown Calgary,” said Thom Mahler, Director of Downtown Strategy at The City of Calgary on a panel at the Assembly. 

“Something that everyone wants to do and can afford - that is a vibrant downtown core. This wouldn’t be possible today if we hadn’t started taking a concerted effort towards this ten years ago,” said Mahler. 

Calgary held its place among the Top 10 most livable cities in the world, and the Calgary Foundation’s Quality of Life report found 87 per cent of Calgarians think the city is a good place for young people to live. 

Skilled talent builds a workforce for the future 

As the city grows, attracting, retaining and developing top talent with the right skills for an evolving economy is vital. 

To expedite the growth of our workforce and create adaptive, future-focused learning opportunities, the Opportunity Calgary Investment Fund (OCIF) announced $5.5 million investment into Bow Valley College to establish the Calgary Entertainment Arts Production Hub in late 2023. 

“We can’t leave something as important as our economy up to chance,” said panelist Deana Haley, Vice President, Corporate Initiatives, Calgary Economic Development. 

“The economic action plan for Calgary guides our focus, and as a result, we can leverage tools and initiatives like OCIF to fuel job creation and growth, attract talent and capital to build resiliency in our economy.” 

Other educational institutions across Calgary also launched new programs to meet the current and future needs of employers in areas of new technology skills, aviation and agriculture technology, digital media and entertainment. 

Putting classroom learnings into real-world applications, the new transformational initiative, TalentED YYC, generated over 250 work-integrated learning opportunities for students to combine their studies with workplace experience. 

Calgary continues to emerge as a top location for business 

As the city attracts the talent it needs to grow, it reciprocally attracts the expansion of multinational companies and scaling of local SMEs.  

A win for Calgary, Canadian Pacific Rail and Kansas City Southern merged in the first significant rail merger in North America in two decades, maintaining Calgary as its headquarters and solidifying the city as a transportation and logistics hub. 

Expansions to Calgary are a trend expected to continue.  

Forty-two percent of business leaders surveyed in external markets have considered expanding to Calgary, and many cite the city’s relative affordability, livability, income growth and international connections as draws. 

Offering global connectivity for companies and talent, the Calgary International Airport now tracks over 90 direct flights to destinations across North America, Europe and Asia, and welcomed over 18.5 million passengers last year. 

Growing as an iconic city  

The city also saw investments made to inspire community vibrancy and connection. 

In addition to the infrastructure investments in Calgary’s cultural district, over 1.3 million locals and visitors from around the world came to experience the renowned Calgary Stampede.  

With the Calgary region’s presence filling the big screen on productions including The Last Of Us and My Life with the Walter Boys, its film and television industry received international recognition.  

The city won Location of the Year by the Global Production Awards and an eighth-place rank on MovieMaker’s global list of Best Cities for Filmmakers. 

Strong venture capital investment continues in Calgary 

Another sign of momentum, Calgary attracted 74 per cent of Alberta’s venture capital investment last year, with $501 million invested through 64 deals.  

During a year where most provinces in Canada experienced in decline in the number of deals made, this marks the consistency and strength of Calgary’s innovation ecosystem and the startup community.  

The critical mass of entrepreneurs has access to the resources they need to scale through organizations like the U of C, which ranked the number one university for startup creation for the third year in a row.  

In the last year, Platform Calgary also revamped its international programs into the federal Global Startup Visa Program to aid entrepreneurs who want to move their families and businesses to Calgary.  

Ongoing collaboration paves Calgary’s economic future 

These wins for the city come as a result of ongoing collaboration amongst community organizations.  

“Calgary is a place where innovators, dreamers and blue-sky thinkers converge to solve some of the biggest global challenges. Despite facing headwinds last year, Calgarians came together to keep building momentum for our city,” said Brad Parry, President and CEO, Calgary Economic Development in the annual progress report. 

Collaboration was identified as Calgary’s superpower by Mahler, and echoed by Shawna Morning-Bull, a Business Development Manager at Community Futures Treaty 7 and one of the panelists. 

“We know it makes sense to come together. In 2024, let’s continue to be good neighbours. Let’s get together, collaborate and move forward for the betterment of everybody, because coming together benefits all of us,” said Morning-Bull. 

Meaghon Reid, the Executive Director of Vibrant Communities Calgary and moderator of the panel, agreed. 

“It’s more important than ever,” said Reid. “Everyone, every organization and every business plays a role building an inclusive city in Calgary.” 

 Read the 2024 Annual Progress Report along with the highlights, and dive deeper into Uplook: An Action Plan for Our Economy


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