Edmonton returning to sustainable growth but don't expect a boom, says city economist

Edmonton's chief economist says the city is starting to get out of the economic downturn, but not to expect a boom.

‘Instead of exporting oil, I would see Edmonton moving forward by exporting brains,’ John Rose says

Edmonton's chief economist, John Rose, made a presentation to the Economics Society of Northern Alberta on Wednesday. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

Edmonton is on its way out of an economic downturn, but the city's chief economist says Edmontonians shouldn't expect a boom like they've seen in the past.

"Edmontonians and Albertans in general, when you say we're returning to growth they think, 'Oh, we're returning to a boom," John Rose told 50 members of the Economics Society of Northern Alberta on Wednesday.

"We're not returning to a boom, we're returning to modest sustainable growth in the 2, 2½-per cent range. We're not going back to 4, 4½-per cent growth that we experienced during the last boom from 2010 to 2014."

For the past two years an economic downturn linked to low oil prices has affected Edmonton and the rest of province. But based on economic growth, a lowering unemployment rate, and a population that continues to grow, things are looking up, he said.

Rose said he thinks Conference Board of Canada growth projections for Edmonton's economy are 'very aggressive targets.' (Travis McEwan/CBC)

The Conference Board of Canada forecasts Edmonton and Calgary to have the fastest growing economies in Canada this year. The conference board projects Edmonton's gross domestic product (GDP) to increase by 3.9 per cent this year but to slow down to 2,2 per cent next year.

Rose expects 2.2 per cent to be a more realistic expectation for Edmonton's economic growth.

"Those are very aggressive targets," he said. "I'm anticipating that we will have growth, as I mentioned, but it's going to be much more modest than that. Probably in the range of 2-2.5 per cent for Edmonton."

Diversification to drive the economy

Rose anticipates oil and gas prices won't increase at a quick rate, so he anticipates other industries to drive the city's economy.

On Tuesday, the day after his election victory, Mayor Don Iveson said his priority is to ensure the city is able to sustain its prosperity.

He plans to meet with Edmonton Economic Development Corp., post-secondary institutions, the city's major employers and small businesses to ensure the city sees long-term growth in jobs, wealth, entrepreneurship and innovation.

The community needs to be a little more tolerant of activities, say, along Whyte Avenue.- John Rose

It's an approach that Rose agrees with.

"What I really see is a flourishing of professional services, of information technology, artificial intelligence, those kind of things," he said. "Instead of exporting oil I would see Edmonton moving forward by exporting brains."

A more vibrant nightlife

On Edmonton AM on Wednesday, Rose said believes a focus on cultural activities and a more vibrant nightlife will lead to even more growth.

"The community needs to be a little more tolerant of activities, say, along Whyte Avenue, that kind of thing. Recognizing that this is a key factor in attracting people and retaining them once they've left university or college, and keeping them engaged in the community," he said.




Travis McEwan


Travis McEwan is an award-winning video journalist. Originally from Churchill, Man., he's spent the last decade working at CBC Edmonton. Email story ideas to travis.mcewan@cbc.ca