Recap: 2011 EEDC Annual Luncheon

I was once again fortunate to attend EEDC’s Annual Luncheon, which took place yesterday at the Shaw Conference Centre. After 16 years, the luncheon has become a popular fixture downtown, and it showed yesterday with an absolutely packed Hall D. EEDC uses the event to highlight the work it is doing to help make Edmonton one of the world’s top five mid-sized cities by 2030, and also to honor local businesses making a difference with the EEDC Awards of Excellence. I enjoyed last year’s luncheon, but aside from the length, I thought this year’s was better. The production quality was much improved, with some great looking graphics and videos displayed on the giant screens. EEDC’s own Brent Beatty did an excellent job as the event’s emcee.

This year I was asked by EEDC if I would spend some time with Andrea Wahbe, a journalist visiting from Toronto to learn more about Edmonton’s tech scene. I readily agreed, and enjoyed sharing my take on Edmonton with her. Our conversation naturally touched on more than just technology, so hopefully I was able to provide some useful context. Andrea was only here a short time but she seemed to enjoy downtown, and got to make stops at the Art Gallery of Alberta, Transcend Jasper, and the Edmonton Research Park before heading home.

2011 EEDC Annual Luncheon2011 EEDC Annual Luncheon

The winners of the 2011 EEDC Awards of Excellence are:

From the press release:

“We have some of the best organizations in the country right here in Greater Edmonton that represent and reflect our corporate priority areas: leadership, innovation and recognition. It is an honour to acknowledge and recognize Stantec, Cleankeys and Master Flo Valve for the significant contribution to our community. They engage the community and act as a catalyst for change, while fostering innovation and increasing Edmonton’s visibility on a global level.”

The special mention award went to Hot To Huddle this year, for their work on the Grey Cup 2010 festival. EEDC Board Member Chris LaBossiere handed out the awards.

Ron Gilbertson, EEDC’s President and CEO, and Henry Yip, EEDC Board Chair, were both on hand to give remarks. Henry focused on recognizing the hard work that everyone at EEDC has done, and introduced the board. Ron spent his time discussing the economic situation here in Edmonton, though a little less formally than he did last year. The impending labour shortage was the hot topic, and Ron noted that our unemployment rate is about 5.8%, which is down from 7.3% just a year ago. “The days of Edmonton being a low-cost labour centre are gone,” he said.

One of the interesting things that EEDC did this year was text voting. Everyone in attendance was encouraged to answer three questions about Edmonton’s competitiveness via text message (they used Poll Everywhere). Unfortunately the event was running behind schedule so they only quickly flashed the results up on screen.

2011 EEDC Annual Luncheon

2011 EEDC Annual Luncheon2011 EEDC Annual Luncheon

Most people felt that Edmonton is “wandering” when it comes to competitiveness, we have strengths in some areas but not others, and we lack clear focus. The most critical issue affecting Edmonton’s future competitiveness was “labour supply”, with “investment in innovation” and “transportation and infrastructure” close behind. And finally, the vast majority of respondents said they have a plan to enhance competitiveness at their own companies.

The keynote speaker this year was Deborah L. Wince-Smith, President of the Council on Competitiveness (among other things). She spent her time talking about the revolution we’re experiencing in innovation. She cited things like Google, Facebook, and the iPad, but also talked about nanotechnology and high performance computing. I liked her catchphrase for the latter – “to outcompete you have to outcompute”. Though Deborah focused mainly on the United States, she did try to apply her comments to Edmonton a few times. She defined innovation as “I to the 5th power”: ideas, imagination, impact, individuals, and investment. I have to say that I felt mixed about Deborah’s keynote. Some of the things she said really resonated, while others (like her multiple comments about Facebook toppling dictatorial regimes) definitely did not. I liked the way she closed however, stating that “Edmonton is an energy hotspot, but the rest is up to you.”

Thanks to EEDC for inviting me to the annual luncheon. You can read the January update on Edmonton’s Economy in PDF here, and be sure to follow @EEDC on Twitter for updates.