Calgary must 'fix the talent pipeline' to attract high-tech business, says economic development boss

Calgary Economic Development CEO Mary Moran wants to build a pipeline — not for oil and gas, but for technology talent.

CED launches $1M campaign to boost investment and jobs beyond energy sector

Mary Moran, president and CEO of Calgary Economic Development, says attracting new talent to the city is as important as getting a pipeline built. (Mark Matulis/CBC)

Calgary Economic Development CEO Mary Moran wants to build a pipeline — not for oil and gas, but for technology talent. 

On Thursday, the CED had its annual Report to the Community at the Jack Singer concert hall where movers, shakers, politicians and community leaders piled into the venue to hear about the organization's accomplishments in 2018.

"We know that the energy pipeline is important," said Moran. "If we don't fix the talent pipeline, it is going to become equally as critical as getting an energy pipeline."

To help address that need, Moran said the CED is spending a million dollars on a campaign to attract tech talent to Calgary. 

She said the city, unlike other major centres, doesn't have the right kind of talent in the technology sector to attract new business — outside of oil and gas — to Calgary. 

According to Moran, in Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal, software engineers and data scientists make up anywhere from 50 to 62 per cent of the tech talent, while in Calgary that number sits at about 25 per cent.

The CED CEO stepped away from her role to be a part of the 2026 Calgary Olympic Bid Corporation last year. 

She mentioned the Winter Games five times in her speech.

She said the economic and political timing of the discussion around a bid made hosting the Games impossible. But she said it taught her Calgary is ready to take the world stage.

"We are optimistic about the future," Moran said. "And we have greater resolve to try to fill in that role to go tell the world about the great things that are going on in this community."

According to the CED, last year they attracted 87 companies to Calgary, and as a result created 8,300 jobs — two times the number of jobs created two years ago.

But Moran said Calgarians are still having a tough time. Downtown office space sits between 24 and 30 per cent vacant, and she said with the Telus Sky building coming online there are even more spaces to fill. 

"There's nobody asking for a million square feet," said Moran. "So we do have to be patient."

Mayor Naheed Nenshi couldn't' be at the event because of his travel schedule but appeared on a video where he talked a lot about optimism, and making Calgary a destination. 

"We have the ability to do something even more incredible here — and that's what I want you all to focus on," said Nenshi. "Sometimes perception becomes reality, sometimes woe is me conversations lead to more woe and in fact what we need to do is focus on the amazing."

The mayor said Calgary has an incredible economic strategy thanks to Calgary Economic Development. And there's more to come — he hinted the city will soon launch an exciting initiative to remind the world that Calgary is open to business.

Last year city council voted to give CED a $100 million fund to jump start the economy. So far, the group has spent $14.5 million of that funding.