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Downturn at dusk

Even battered by recession and bracing for change, Calgary businesses are optimistic about the opportunities in the city.

More than two-thirds of 935 business owners and senior executives surveyed for Calgary Economic Development and The Calgary Chamber say they’re generally hopeful about the future even though seven of 10 believe there’s been a fundamental change in the energy industry.

As businesses adjust to historic economic, political, technological and societal change, the online poll conducted April 15 to May 2 by Stone-Olafson Research suggests that Calgary’s legendary spirit remains as strong as ever.

“There is a growing sense of optimism that while it’s not blue skies and sunshine just yet, we’ve weathered the worst of this economic storm,” says Mary Moran, President and CEO of Calgary Economic Development. “What we are seeing is the resiliency of Calgary.”

experiencinggrowth2The research was conducted to gauge the sentiment of business almost two years after the free fall in oil prices. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers estimates 110,000 jobs have been lost in the energy sector in Western Canada and unemployment in Calgary was at 8.1 per cent in May. Since the beginning of 2016, the rate in Calgary has been above the national average for the first time since the 1980s.

Calgary’s economy shrunk by 2.5 per cent in 2015 and economists don’t expect Alberta to return to growth until next year.

Given the structural change in the oil and industry worldwide, optimism is more tempered in the energy sector as 49 per cent of respondents were generally hopeful compared with 70 per cent of other respondents.

The information will be used by Calgary Economic Development and the Calgary Chamber to support initiatives to spur economic growth and prosperity.  

diversification“Businesses have recognized that many of these are long-term changes,” says Adam Legge, President and CEO of the Calgary Chamber. “As a result, businesses are also now clearly telling us they are facing a hugely challenging economic period – 56 per cent of businesses say that they have slowed down in the past year. Small and medium businesses in faced some of the fastest hits as the economy slowed.”

Along with efforts to lower costs, many businesses said they are focused on solutions to support resiliency and diversify:

  • 51 per cent pursuing more productivity and efficiency
  • 39 per cent are investing in new lines of business
  • 29 per cent are exploring new markets
  • 21 per cent are training their staff with new skills.

Even in this downturn, oil and gas remains one of Canada’s biggest industries and securing access to global markets is a top priority. Calgary Economic Development is also pursuing diversification into areas such as renewables, clean tech, petrochemicals, logistics and transportation, and film, TV and creative industries.

“Three-quarters of businesses say while our economy is still dominated by energy it has become far more diversified in recent years,” Moran says. “The research shows Calgary is a city that embraces change and businesses are confident they will be able to prosper from it.”

 Our workforce remains Calgary’s best resource and main reason for optimism.

Calgary Economic Development participated in two recent surveys –Monitor Deloitte and KPMG – to compare the competiveness of cities globally. Both concluded our real advantage is the young, highly educated and globally connected workforce.

This downturn has been called Alberta’s worst recession in 30 years but this isn’t the 1980s. Today, businesses are looking to pivot into new markets and we are positioning Calgary as a talent hub to take on work globally and export goods, services and ideas while retaining our people.

Discussion

Stephen Ewart Profile Picture

BY Stephen Ewart

Manager, Research & Strategy

Marketing & Communications

Stephen joined our Communications team in 2016 from the Calgary Herald where he was a columnist on the energy industry. He had previously worked in communications roles with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, Cenovus Energy, Encana and Precision Drilling and in journalism with The Canadian Press and the Telegraph-Journal in New Brunswick.

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