Trade mission lures California company to Calgary

Calgary Economic Development used a little political star power this week to lure a California company to set up an office in Calgary.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Calgary Economic Development CEO Mary Moran part of Silicon Valley trip

Calgary Economic Development CEO Mary Moran and Mayor Naheed Nenshi were part of a recent trade mission to the Bay Area that lured a California company to move to Alberta. (CBC/Associated Press/CBC)

Calgary Economic Development used a little political star power this week to lure a California company to set up an office in Calgary.

With a high unemployment rate and plenty of empty downtown office space in Calgary, CED has trained its eyes on northern California in recent months.

CEO Mary Moran was in the Bay Area last month, meeting with business executives and promoting what Calgary has to offer.

This week, Moran and her team returned to visit San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

This time she brought along Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Alberta's Economic Development Minister Deron Bilous.

Nenshi said one company is prepared to set up in Calgary.

"This particular company was someone who had never really even heard of Calgary last month and over the course of the last three weeks, we met them here," he said. "They came up to visit. They started scoping out places. And when we met them yesterday, they said: 'Have you got the lease with you so that we can sign it?'

"Business moves fast here."

The head of Calgary Economic Development along with Calgary's mayor and the provincial minister of economic development was in California recently, hoping to lure tech companies from Silicon Valley (left) to our city. (Patrick Nouhailler/Flickr, davebloggs007/Flickr)

He won't provide any details on the company but says it's significant enough that there will be a ribbon-cutting when it opens.

"It'll be their first entry into Canada and they were considering other Canadian locations. But after hearing our story, they want to start in Calgary," said the mayor.

Moran said the Albertans met with about a dozen companies on their trip this week. She said the companies included those in the tech sector — big and small firms — but also businesses involved in logistics.

When asked what difference it makes to a trade mission to bring along a mayor and a cabinet minister, Moran said it only helps.

"It shows a commitment from the province and the city that we're serious about this region," said Moran.

"We have to do a lot of education still because Calgary is not necessarily on the map compared to other Canadian cities who have invested a lot more time here in the last several years or decades."

Economy a selling point

The troubles associated with the recent downturn in Calgary's economy are actually selling points for the city in northern California. 

Well-educated workers are available and the now plentiful downtown office space is cheaper than buildings in San Francisco's core. Calgary and the surrounding area also offer a high quality of life — all things the sector values.

Nenshi said, "Certainly we can say to them: 'You know, the average cost of hiring a software engineer in Calgary is much lower that in Silicon Valley' and that's interesting." 

"But these are not people who are really interested in low-cost salaries or saving a few bucks in how they're paying people. They're really interested in the long-term retention of top talent."

U.S. travel ban a factor

Uncertainty created by proposed travel bans sought by the Trump administration is also a factor for some companies.

Nenshi said some officials said this week they're unconcerned by what they see as temporary measures, while others are quite worried.

"There are companies that fundamentally believe that their business model in the United States is at risk and they need to get ahead of the curve and think about maybe Canada as a place for what they call near-shoring. So the spectrum is very, very, very wide on this," said Nenshi.

This week's trade mission has wrapped up. But Moran said this won't be CED's last trip to northern California trying to convince companies to open an office in Calgary.

"We're going to be back here several times this year and I know that we'll have more yes's during the year, for sure," said Moran.