How Calgary is trying to become the next 'Silicon Valley North'

The head of Calgary Economic Development, Mary Moran, is in California this week, hoping to convince tech companies that the Alberta city has the potential to be the next Silicon Valley.

Calgary's pool of talent, corporate head offices, vacant commercial space makes the city attractive for tech

The head of Calgary Economic Development is in California this week, hoping to lure tech companies from Silicon Valley (left) to our city. (Patrick Nouhailler/Flickr, davebloggs007/Flickr)

The head of Calgary Economic Development is in California this week, hoping to lure tech companies further north.

Mary Moran says Calgary has the potential to be the next Silicon Valley — though another Canadian region between Toronto and Kitchener-Waterloo is already laying claim to the title "Silicon Valley North."

Between her meetings with numerous tech companies including business accelerators and venture capital firms, Moran spoke to the Calgary Eyeopener to share how she's hoping to attract more tech buzz to this city. 

Q: What are you up to this week?

A: We're doing a repeat trip of a trip we did in the spring of last year. The recognition we had this time last year was that we needed to do some work at home in order to be able to attract tech companies and even investment into Calgary. Some of that work has been done, there's been great work to align governments and universities and private sector, but we've also been strengthening the innovation ecosystem. With that work done, we're in a better position to come back here and start to lure some of those companies to Calgary.

Q: What's the innovation ecosystem?

A: It would include things like, do we have incubator and accelerator spaces? Do we have the right policies to attract capital into the market? Do we have the right programming to ensure that startups are able to succeed? Are we promoting those stories? Are we adjusting the curriculum to help students coming out of post-secondary to hit the ground running in either technology or some kind of innovation program?

Q: What are some of the selling points you're using to convince these companies they should set up shop in Calgary?

A: I don't think people understand the science, technology, engineering and math population that we have. It's one of the highest concentrations in Canada. Companies, particularly in Silicon Valley are looking for that type of talent.

When you think about lower cost or more economical office space, that's a really important factor. For them, it would be lower cost talent because of the exchange rate, not to mention that Calgary having corporate head offices is a really great asset when we're pitching companies down here. They're not only looking for talent, they're looking for clients.

Mary Moran, president and CEO of Calgary Economic Development, says Calgary's pool of talent, combined with corporate head offices and vacant commercial space, makes the city attractive to tech companies. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

Q: This is an interesting time, politically, for tech companies in the U.S. Many of them oppose the Trump immigration ban, arguing the industry requires a steady flow of immigrants. Does that help bolster Calgary's appeal?

A: For some companies it does. It's not certainly the first thing we put out because this isn't being driven by our city as a result of the immigration ban, this is being driven out of the downturn in the economy. But in some cases that does become a big selling feature, whether Calgary be a staging ground for people trying to come into international markets that can't get into the US and/or for companies that just feel like they will have better global access out of Canada.

Q: Does Calgary have enough of a tech culture to succeed as a hub for these sorts of companies?

A: We're getting there. It took Silicon Valley a long time to build it up to what it is, not dissimilar to what it's taking Waterloo to build its tech sector up. The real opportunity is that we're on an acceleration that we've never been on before and this is the opportunity. People do want to live, work, play in the same area so it really is important that we continue to invest in downtown. 

Q: Do you have any sense of uptake or interest yet?

A: People are really interested. This whole opportunity with Calgary is really around this industrial internet of things and creating a centre of excellence for it. If you think about our core industries — energy, agriculture, logistics — and the need to overlay the internet on top of those to be more productive, more efficient, to manage assets, to get to end-to-end automation, it really is a huge opportunity.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener