Alberta economic diversity: 2 points of view

Two different groups of people came to the table Thursday to talk about diversity in the Alberta economy. One in Red Deer and one in Calgary, but the way forward, depends entirely on who you ask.

2 business meetings, 1 in Calgary, 1 in Red Deer arrive at different conclusions for the way forward

The Calgary Economic Development held a summit to allow business leaders to provide feedback to the province on policy. (CBC)

Two different groups of people came together Thursday to talk about diversity in the Alberta economy. One in Red Deer and one in Calgary, but the way forward, depends entirely on who you ask.

Deron Bilous, minister of economic development and trade for Alberta, tried to comfort some in business community at a summit put on by Calgary Economic Development, just a day after the province announced a multi-billion dollar deficit looming.

"You are not alone in this," Bilous said.

Deron Bilous, minister of economic development and trade for Alberta, addressed a summit of business people in Calgary Thursday. He says his government is working to create the conditions needed for job growth from the private sector. (CBC)

"We have an economic action plan and we are taking action. Our government in the fall budget committed to increasing our capital spending on infrastructure."

He told the business audience his government is pushing for projects like the Energy East pipeline and others, to get Alberta products to market.

But he also talked economic diversification for the province.

"We are going to come up with a made in Alberta solution," the minister explained.

"I am quite excited at the opportunities that lie ahead from the transition to renewables and all of the dovetailing of our climate leadership plan … We want to build on our strengths. We are not about to throw money at an industry that doesn't even exist in the province and hope that it is going to take hold."

Mary Moran, Calgary Economic Development CEO, says businesses are telling her the province can play a roll in supporting the city's economy.

Mary Moran, Calgary Economic Development CEO, says provincial policies need to be in place that allow business communities to be more competitive. (CBC)

"What we need the province to do, is look at policies to ensure that we are competitive," Moran said.

"Are we prepared for the trade agreements coming down? Are we nurturing innovation? Do we have the right policies? Are we competitive to our neighbouring provinces from tax incentives to attracting venture capital?"

Moran said the summit was an opportunity for government to hear from business owners.

Further north in Red Deer, another meeting of business minds.

A chamber luncheon at Red Deer Golf and Country Club brought together central Alberta business leaders Thursday to support oil and gas development and discuss provincial economic policies. (Red Deer Golf and Country Club)

A chamber luncheon gave central Alberta business owners the chance to talk and find support in numbers.

Danny Krueger runs a welding and manufacturing shop in Wetaskiwin.

His business has been hit hard with the drop in energy prices.

"We were at a staff of 13, now we are down to, well, it's me and the secretary now, we laid the last two off last Thursday," Krueger said.

To Krueger, one of the solutions is having the province lobby for pipelines.

"I think they should be pushing these pipelines. I think they should be dealing with Trudeau and Obama and keep pushing and pushing, don't worry about other stuff, get out economy back going instead of looking after outside refugees and things like that."

Gerry McCracken says he owns the only business evaluator in central Alberta.

He says talk of diversifying the province's economy is nothing new.

"We have been talking about diversifying the Alberta economy since I have been here, which is 1975," McCracken said.

"It's one of those things, easier to say. You can diversify a little bit but, the reality is that we are a resource-based economy. Not only energy, agriculture and to a lesser extent forestry and probably tourism would be our fourth major industry."

This is where the puck drops

McCracken says Red Deer and area is an important gauge of Alberta's economic pulse.

"This is where the puck drops. The nets are either end, but the puck drops here and this is where you come to find out what is going on in the Alberta economy in general. The people here are very entrepreneurial, very progressive and very optimistic about everything they do. That's advantage that we really have in central Alberta that we often forget," he said.

It is scary

Heather Thomas runs a company that provides security to oil and gas companies and safety apparel.

She says central Alberta has been hit hard by the drop in the price of oil, made worse by policies from the NDP government.

"We have been severely impacted. We are doing about 45 per cent of the business that we normally do at this time of the year with our security company and we have got about a 75 per cent drop in our safety apparel company, so we are hugely hit," Thomas told CBC News.

"People are losing their jobs, their homes, their vehicles, everything. They are going to the food bank. They don't know where their next paycheque is coming. It is scary. It is causing a lot of panic."

She fears that current policies won't be enough to improve the situation.

"I don't believe that the NDP government has the ability to deal with this. I believe that Rachel Notley is not educated enough, nor does she have a pulse on the community, nor does she have any clue what she is dealing with."

Meanwhile, back in Calgary, the owner of a clean tech company says it's about finding opportunities out of challenges.

Audrey Mascarenhas has lived in Calgary since the early 80s.

Clean tech business owner Audrey Mascarenhas says it's about looking at things in a different way. (CBC)

"We have actually been hiring, we have tripled our staff over the last 5 years," Mascarenhas said.

"Exports continue to grow. Those are the opportunities that I think that will help us smooth out the ups and downs."

She says it's about looking at things differently.

Calgary Economic Development held a summit in Thursday, while a chamber luncheon in Red Deer brought together a central Alberta business community. (CBC)

"If we take the opportunity to start to be open minded, clear the opportunities for them to grow, fund and support them, we have a chance to play a bigger part as Canada in this clean tech emerging market," she said.

"Globally, we are going towards a low carbon economy. Why not be a part of that in looking for some of our great, innovative solutions."


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