Uber launches in Edmonton

As of 10am this morning, you can now use Uber in Edmonton to get a ride to your next destination. Uber is a smartphone app and platform that connects you with a driver, as an alternative to hailing a taxi, taking public transportation, or driving yourself. It is sometimes called a ride-sharing app. Edmonton is the fourth Canadian city for Uber, which already operates in Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal. Since launching in San Francisco in 2009, the company has expanded to 53 countries and more than 230 cities worldwide. An Uber representative bought me a beer last night to discuss the service.

To help launch the service in Edmonton, Uber has teamed up with Goodwill to hold a clothing drive. You can open the Uber app on December 18 and click a special donate button to have a car come and pick up a donation of clothing for free. The #UberClothingDrive runs from 10am to 5pm, and is also happening in Calgary, Ottawa, and Toronto.

Uber now offers a range of services and the specific one launching here in Edmonton is UberX, which consists of “everyday cars for everyday use.” It’s their lowest cost offering and is described as follows by Uber:

“Peer-to-peer ride sharing offered by insured drivers who have undergone extensive background scrutiny, are fully insured and are tracked and rated through Uber technology; rides are charged at a base rate, plus time and distance.”

They say you can expect to pay about 30% less than a comparable taxi ride, and the price can drop even further if you split fares with other Uber members or use UberPOOL (which is a way to share cars with other riders who are travelling to and from nearby locations). UberPOOL isn’t available in Edmonton yet, but it will be eventually.

I’m not going to go into more detail about how Uber works here, but you can learn all about it at the Uber support site. Drivers are contractors, not employees, and Uber does not own or operate any cars itself. If you want to sign up to be a driver for Uber in Edmonton, you can do so here.

Early supporters in Edmonton

Many Edmontonians have come out in support of Uber, including some pretty high profile ones.

Back in September, Davic MacLean wrote an op-ed in the Edmonton Journal supporting Uber. Here’s what the Alberta Enterprise Group Vice President had to say:

“Ridesharing services are the future of the taxi industry, but we need to get the regulatory structure right. Policy-makers must find a way to respect the investments existing drivers and taxi companies have made into their businesses while, at the same time, promoting consumer choice without sacrificing safety.”

In an op-ed in the Edmonton Journal yesterday, Chris LaBossiere also made the case for Uber:

“With each of Uber’s product levels, from private citizen-driven uberX cars, to uberTAXI or the more luxurious uberBLACK car service, I have experienced a better product, at a significantly reduced price.”

Uber’s “rider zero”, the first person to officially use the service in Edmonton, is former Mayor Bill Smith.


Photo by Moments in Digital

“It’s great to see innovative and new business models like Uber come to Edmonton,” stated former Mayor Bill Smith. “I’ve always believed that embracing change is the best path to success. Uber’s technology will create opportunity and more transportation options for our citizens, helping this city continue to grow.”

A few weeks ago, Paula Simons hit on another reason why Edmontonians will support Uber:

“The dated oligopoly model simply doesn’t offer enough competition to improve customer service — as any Edmontonian who has been stranded on a snowy street corner by a phantom cab can attest. If Edmonton taxi companies and city officials don’t want Uber here, they need to deliver better service.”

More broadly in Canada, the Competition Bureau has publicly stated they see benefits from Uber. They encouraged municipalities to explore “whether less restrictive regulations could adequately address their concerns.”

The road to launch in Edmonton

There’s nothing from a legal or regulatory point-of-view that has changed to make Uber’s foray into Edmonton possible, so there is a little bit of uncertainty regarding how the service will be received.

Uber has met with City of Edmonton officials a couple of times over the last few months, but so far the response has been icy. Garry Dziwenka, Director of Business Licensing and Vehicle for Hire, has said the city is particularly worried about UberX. In some cities Uber drivers have been charged with bylaw infractions, sometimes through sting operations. The same thing could happen here in Edmonton.

At the September 2 meeting of Executive Committee, Mayor Iveson made an inquiry about third-party apps like Uber and their relation to the Vehicle for Hire regulations. A report is due back from City Administration in January, and Uber has said it will be there to discuss the findings.

The taxi industry is understandably worried about Uber. About a month ago, the Edmonton Taxi Service Group noted the legal battle Uber faces in Vancouver and said that if the company came to Edmonton, “we’ll do what we have to do”. They’re ready to go to court. The Vehicle for Hire Industry Advisory Group has discussed Uber at each of its last four meetings. A cooperative group made up of members of the taxi and limousine industry, the advisory group has no power to govern the industry but is convened by the City to provide advice (City Council’s Vehicle for Hire Commission was disbanded in March 2012). The advisory group was slated to discuss the pending report in response to Mayor Iveson’s inquiry last week.

It could just be coincidence, but I’ve noticed a concerted effort by the City to educate citizens about illegal cabs recently. The campaign began around Halloween and included a survey on the Edmonton Insight Community. Earlier this month the City announced you can now report problem cabs using your smartphone. Again, it could just be a coincidence, but the timing does seem suspect.

In his op-ed yesterday, Chris LaBossiere discussed the debate about Uber in Edmonton:

“Cities around the world are fighting ride-sharing services, instead of adapting to work with them. My own discussions with some of our politicians and bureaucrats lead me to believe that Edmonton will be no different.”

I tend to agree. He continued:

“We are about to see a fierce debate play out in our city. The taxi industry will fight ride-sharing services. They naturally want to protect their monopoly. Some establishment-thinking politicians and bureaucrats will lack the courage to change our regulations and accept a product that virtually everyone wants.”

I am happy to see Uber launch in Edmonton and I believe their participation in the transportation marketplace will ultimately be a good thing for Edmontonians. It won’t be easy though.

Controversy seems to follow Uber

To say that Uber is controversial might be an understatement, and not just with taxi companies. They have been sued by Los Angeles and San Francisco, they’re banned in Dehli, the company faces dozens of charges and legal troubles in Toronto (despite support from Mayor John Tory), and their business practices have been increasingly under the microscope. Uber is accused of digging up dirt on journalists who criticize the company, and they got into a very public fight with PandoDaily’s Sarah Lacy as a result. They’re also accused of creating thousands of fake requests to cause trouble for rival service Lyft.

Here’s a collection of headlines I came across just this week related to Uber:

I’m generally a believer that where there’s smoke there’s fire, so it’s definitely worrying to hear of Uber’s questionable business practices. Do I want to do business with a company that seems to play dirty so brazenly?

On the other hand, Uber is a disruptive force all around the world. They’re attacking established markets in hundreds of cities all with different rules and regulations and all at the same time. They need to be aggressive if they’re going to succeed, and they’re going to ruffle a few feathers along the way.

What’s next?

I used Uber in Miami last week, and I plan to use it here in Edmonton also. Along with public transportation and carsharing services like Pogo, having Uber in Edmonton makes the prospect of not owning a vehicle even more realistic. It’ll be a positive force for competition in the city.

I have no doubt that Uber competitors like Lyft will follow (in fact they tweeted to me that they’d like to come up to Edmonton soon). If Uber has already done the heavy lifting, why not enter the market also? I wouldn’t expect that to happen until whatever legal tussles that might occur have been dealt with, but it’ll happen.

Uber is here and they’re here to stay. They’ll fight whatever challenges come up just as they have done in other markets. If the service is embraced by Edmontonians, the regulations and monopolies will eventually give way. For the next month they’ll be flying a little under the radar, but it’ll be interesting to see what happens after the City report is released in January. Get ready for some fireworks!

You can follow Uber in Edmonton on Twitter. Here’s their official blog post about UberX in Edmonton.

Recap: Launch Party Edmonton 5

Last night Startup Edmonton hosted its fifth Launch Party, “the city’s flagship startup event that celebrates and showcases the hottest startups in town.” Hundreds of Edmontonians attended to learn more about ten new local companies. A short program at the start included an overview from Startup’s Tiffany, remarks from presenting partner QUALICO Commercial, remarks from EEDC, and greetings from Mayor Don Iveson.

Mayor Don Iveson

Mayor Iveson said that startups are another reason that Edmonton is getting noticed. He shared a thought that he heard recently, which is that your city isn’t on the map when someone opens a branch office there, it’s on the map when a company from your city opens a branch office somewhere else! Citing the recent news that 40% of all new jobs in Canada last year were generated in Edmonton, he told the presenting companies, “you’re going to create a lot more!”

This was one of the first public events at which EEDC acknowledged the acquisition of Startup Edmonton, a relationship highlighted by the recently relaunched Ignite Edmonton website. Chief Operating Officer Derek Hudson talked about Startup being part of the EEDC family, and highlighted the strengthening startup ecosystem in our city.

Edmonton Launch Party 5

The ten presenting companies represented a range of industries and opportunities, including education, HR, oil & gas, and home automation. They were:

I spent some time checking out Alieo Games and their creative learning product called COW (Creative Online Writing). Alieo’s Kit Chen explained the idea to me, which is that kids don’t practice writing enough and through gamification, there’s an opportunity to change that. We co-wrote a short story that I very creatively called “the monkey by the river” to get sense of how the tool works. Kids can choose between a blank page or a prompt to help them start writing. As they write, they’re presented with bonus words that they are meant to incorporate. If they do, they earn Alieo dollars that they can spend on their avatar. When they’re done, the system presents some statistics of their writing to help them improve.

Edmonton Launch Party 5

The plan is to try to get schools to adopt the tool, but they are also pricing it so that a single teacher could use it with his or her own class with discretionary funds. The three primary people behind the company are all PhD candidates at the University of Alberta, so they’re building this company alongside that already ambitious endeavour! Alieo Games is an eHUB Startup, and won first place in the TEC VenturePrize Student Competition last year. You can follow them on Twitter for updates.

I also spoke with Alexis Alchorn from Pogo CarShare. They were probably the most high profile of the participating companies, given they had just done a big reveal earlier in the day. Pogo is similar to other carsharing services like Car2Go, but it is created by Edmontonians for Edmontonians. Basically you use a mobile app or the website to see where the cars are currently parked, you go and pick one up using your membership card and PIN code, take your trip, then park the car somewhere within the zone when you’re done and it becomes available for another member to use. It really could enable two car households to drop down to one, or maybe even allow some people to go without a car altogether!

Pogo CarShare

It costs just $35 to sign up, and after that you only pay for what you use – $0.47 per minute, $14.99 per hour, or $69.99 per day, and those costs are inclusive of gas, insurance, etc. You can even take the car out of the city for the weekend, and you pay $0.30 per km after 200km. Pogo is starting with just 20 vehicles but they hope to expand that number pretty quickly (down in Calgary, Car2Go has more than 500 vehicles). You probably have more questions, so fortunately they have an extensive FAQ page.

Given that Calgary is one of the fastest growing markets for Car2Go, I have long wondered why we didn’t have a carsharing service here in Edmonton. Now that Pogo is here, I hope to see them succeed. That said, it won’t be easy. They’ve done the heavy lifting of getting the right parking permit created in Edmonton, so in theory a competitor could more easily come to our city now. And one disadvantage as I see it is that if you’re a Car2Go member, you can use the service in any of the more than 30 locations they operate in. In practice I’m not sure how often that happens, but it’s a nice perk of being a member if you travel a lot, and at least for now, Pogo is Edmonton-only. Anyway, I wish them well!

I was intrigued by the name MASV and the “cloud communications” subtitle, so I spent a bit of time talking to co-founder Manson about the idea. Basically MASV is a tool to connect oil & gas companies with equipment rentals over the phone. The unique thing is that the automated phone system uses cloud-based voice recognition and proprietary filtering algorithms to connect renters with the right company. The problem they solve is that out in the field, a phone is often the only tool an oil & gas company can rely on, and they need to source equipment quickly.

Edmonton Launch Party 5

They’re using Node.js and Twilio to power the system. The business model is to have the rental companies pay a fee to be included in the directory and thus available to be connected with renters. MASV is also an eHUB Startup. They anticipate launching early next year.

I thought TwoFold’s Alison McMahon had a great elevator pitch, so I talked to her to learn more about the tools TwoFold has built to create better managers. She said “people usually quit their managers, not their jobs”. Alison is an HR consultant who has been working with companies to implement best practices and develop their managers, so she has lots of experience in the industry. After seeing the same problems again and again, the idea for TwoFold was born.

Twofold

TwoFold provides managers with tools and processes they can follow without being HR experts. Employee surveys, coaching plans, orientation schedules, training history, and performance conversations are all examples. The interface looks pretty clean and is something I could have seen myself greatly benefiting from when I first became a manager. Pricing ranges from $25 per month for up to 15 employees, to $1,200 per month or more for more than 100 employees.

Edmonton Launch Party 5

I didn’t spend as much time at the other companies, but all were interesting. I remember talking to Jason Suriano about his product Trajectory about three years ago, so it was neat to see that it has come to fruition and has customers already. TeachMe is also tackling education through gaming, but instead of writing they focus on math. Otto is a “system-in-a-box” that enables home automation, targeted at builders and renovators rather than end consumers. Instacoins enables you to buy Bitcoin with your bank account using Interac Online, simple as that. OMx is in the health space, and they have a dashboard that aims to give you better information about your body. And MADSOFT Games is focused on browser-based gaming.

The event took place at EPCOR Tower, in the expansive main floor space. As my friend Jeff remarked, the location nicely reflected the Startup Edmonton mantra that was visible on stage: “whatever you’re thinking, think bigger.” It was a very different feel than last year’s launch party, which took place at Startup Edmonton itself. Bigger, bolder, and more polished.

Edmonton Launch Party 5

Launch Party took place on day four of Startup Week, which saw a number of entrepreneurship-oriented events take part all across the city. Kudos to Ken, Cam, and the entire Startup Edmonton crew on a great event and a successful week of celebrating startups in Edmonton!

You can see the rest of my photos from the event here. You can see my previous posts about Launch Party here: #1, #2, #3, #4.

Edmonton in a New Light

Tonight local business leaders gathered in the EPCOR Tower to celebrate a changing city. Construction is happening all over downtown Edmonton, our population is rapidly increasing, and our economic growth is the envy of most other jurisdictions around North America. It’s time to shed our humble past and proudly talk about the new Edmonton, we were told. It’s time to “think positive, talk proud, and speak loud.” It’s time to see Edmonton in a new light.

Edmonton in a New Light

Mayor Don Iveson, EPCOR CEO David Stevens, EEDC CEO Brad Ferguson, and Westin General Manager Joumana Ghandour all took turns at the podium to share their story and their thoughts on why this is such an exciting time for Edmonton. “There’s a transformation happening here,” Mayor Don Iveson told us in a speech that sounded a lot like the ones he gave on the campaign trail during last year’s election. “Edmonton is humble, sometimes to a fault,” he said, “but that’s changing.”

Edmonton in a New Light

The invitation for the event called it the “EPCOR Edmonton Business Leaders Reception”. I expected it to be similar to the 120th anniversary event that EPCOR hosted back in 2011, with brief remarks and a tour of the 28th floor balcony. But this event was much more bold and confident. Guests were invited to “celebrate Edmonton with EPCOR”:

“The opportunity for Edmonton to shine has never been better. Join our city’s business leaders as we begin the task of putting Edmonton in a new, dynamic light for the world to see. EPCOR President & CEO David Stevens and Brad Ferguson of EEDC invite you to a reception and viewing of the major construction projects in our downtown core from the 28th floor balcony of EPCOR Tower.”

In addition to the speeches, guests were treated to a sneak peek at some of the digital assets that EEDC and Make Something Edmonton have been working to create. “Edmonton is a billion dollar brand,” Brad Ferguson told us. “We just haven’t put much effort into it until now.” EEDC is working on the whitelabel video project and other assets so that Edmonton businesses can incorporate consistent messaging into their own brands and communications. The new storytelling tools are expected to be available early next year, some for a modest fee.

Edmonton in a New Light

EEDC is also planning to run targeted ad campaigns in select cities with a goal of attracting students, young couples, and offices to Edmonton’s growing downtown. “We’ve got to fill up all these new buildings,” Brad joked.

After the speeches were done, guests were invited to head up to the 28th floor balcony for a tour of the many construction projects happening around the EPCOR Tower. Here are some photos from above:

Edmonton in a New Light
The Edmonton Arena District

New Royal Alberta Museum Construction
New Royal Alberta Museum

Edmonton in a New Light
Fox & Ultima residential towers

New City Office Tower Construction
EAD Office Tower, which will be home to the City of Edmonton offices

Edmonton in a New Light
The new arena takes shape

Blatchford
Blatchford in the distance

Tonight’s event was undoubtedly a cheerleading session. So might consider it a call-to-arms for the local business community, an opportunity to say ‘get on the train now before its too late’. But unfortunately this sales pitch lacked the all important ask. There was no mention of next steps, beyond the “speak proudly about Edmonton” message and the promise of digital assets to help tell our city’s story. It felt a little incomplete.

That said, this is absolutely an exciting time for Edmonton, and it’s great that our city’s leaders are willing to stand up and say so. Not with the empty, meaningless, and outlandish claims of the past – “Edmonton is the best city, in the best province, in the best country in the world!” – but with a much more Edmontonian approach. “Something big is happening here, we can feel it, and we’re going to start talking a bit more about it.” We’re becoming a little less humble, and that’s a good thing.

Edmonton in a New Light

“The opportunity before us is to let the rest of the world in on the secret of why we’re all here,” Mayor Iveson said. It’s a message that those in the room should already know, but a little reinforcement doesn’t hurt. Hopefully tonight was the first in a series of nudges to get them to do something about it.

You can see more photos here.

Stantec looks to the future with its new tower in downtown Edmonton

The story behind downtown Edmonton’s new Stantec tower isn’t just about the arena, it’s about an Edmonton success story making a bold bet on the future of our city. Stantec is the largest architecture company in Canada, and they build communities all around the world from right here in Edmonton. They’re an important part of both our city’s history and its future.

Keith Shillington

“People know Stantec, but they don’t know Stantec,” Keith Shillington told me over coffee at Credo on 104 Street, just a few blocks from where the new tower will rise. “This is an opportunity to tell the story.”

From Dr. Stanley to Stantec

Stantec began life in 1954 as Stanley Associates, founded by Dr. Don Stanley. The company grew very successfully until the National Energy Program in 1983 hit the firm hard, forcing major layoffs. But they weathered that storm and rebounded in a big way. By the 1990s, the company’s various assets were brought under the umbrella of Stanley Technology Group, and in 1994 the company went public on the Toronto Stock Exchange. In 1998, Tony Franceshini became President and CEO and he launched the Stantec brand. He also articulated a goal for the company: to become a billion-dollar company by 2008. He retired that year having achieved his goal.

Today the company has about 14,000 staff working in more than 230 locations all around the world. The company is listed on both the TSX and NYSE and boasted revenue of more than $1.8 billion in 2013. And under current President & CEO Bob Gomes, Stantec has a new goal: to be a top 10 global design firm. His message on the website recognizes the firm’s rich history and its bright future:

“We take pride in a long history of being part of the communities we serve. We started in 1954 as a one-person firm founded in Edmonton by Dr. Don Stanley. Today we are a public company with a diverse portfolio of clients across many sectors and geographies, both in North America and internationally.”

You can learn much more about the evolution of Stantec on their website.

The search for a new home

Last year, Stantec began the search for a new home in Edmonton. The company currently has about 1,700 local employees spread across four different offices: Stantec Centre at 10160 112 Street, the Devonian office at 11160 Jasper Avenue, the Scotia Place office at 10060 Jasper Avenue, and the Bell Tower office at 10120 103 Avenue. Leases on all of those spaces come due by 2019, making it the ideal time to start thinking about consolidation.

Stantec Centre

The requirements Stantec outlined were vague. At least 300,000 square feet of space, good transit and transportation links, and good amenities. The location was not specified, with the company open to either downtown or suburban proposals, a position that led to great alarm among downtown supporters at the thought of losing one of our city’s major employers.

Keith led the team that undertook the search and ultimately selected the tower that was unveiled yesterday. He’s a Senior Vice President at Stantec, and in company parlance, Keith is a Geographic Leader of the Canadian Prairies and Regional Leader of Alberta North. He’s an Edmontonian, and a proud one.

“Imagine the statement it would have made if we had gone to the suburbs,” he said, saying that while the company stayed open to all possibilities throughout the search, their “hearts were downtown.” In all, Stantec looked at 15 proposals for a new space, 9 of which were located in the downtown area. “They really blew us away,” he said, noting the decision was not easy. “It was fun as an Edmontonian to see the possibilities.”

An iconic building?

When Stantec announced that the search for a new space was beginning, Keith spoke to the Journal about the company’s requirements. At the time, he made a surprising comment about the design of the new building:

“Again, it’s going to depend on what comes back and what developers are prepared to do to meet our needs, but to be honest, are we looking for the iconic ‘wow'”? he asked. “That’s actually not Stantec. That’s not our culture.”

He told me the comment caused quite a bit of discussion internally. “Boy did I hear about that from our design folks!” Still, he maintained that being iconic wasn’t the goal. “Iconic was not written into the RFP,” he said. “Height was not as important to us as having the right space for our staff.”

Keith talked a lot about meeting the needs of staff. For three years straight, Stantec has been named one of Alberta’s Top Employers, and it shows. The new building includes enough space not only for the roughly 1,700 current employees, but also includes room for growth. “It shows confidence in our future,” Keith said. They’re not ready to talk about the interiors yet, but there’s no doubt the design will be geared toward ensuring Stantec has a healthy, happy workforce.

Connected to the community

The new building needed to meet the needs of Stantec and its staff of course, but the company also wanted it to have an impact on the community. “It had to have meaning,” Keith told me. “It couldn’t be just another building.”

I asked him to elaborate on that in the context of Stantec’s culture. “Connected,” is the word he used. “Our connection with the community is strongest when we’re downtown.” He pointed to the existing office on 112 Street as an example. “It’s about the street,” he said, noting the company has programmed 112 Street for all sorts of events for staff. They’ve hosted extremely popular food truck gatherings, for instance. That connection to the street is one of the things that attracted Stantec to the arena district. “The plaza allows us to continue that tradition,” he said.

Stantec Tower

Another interesting aspect of the new tower is the residential component, which will fill the top 33 floors. “It wasn’t originally in the plan,” Keith told me, “but we were open to the possibilities.” It’s another way for Stantec to be connected with the community they’re located in. They’ve done something similar with their new offices in Winnipeg (which features a hotel instead of residential units).

The downtown advantage

Stantec is a major supporter of downtown already, with its existing offices and through its people. For instance, both Keith and Stantec VP Simon O’Byrne are members of the Downtown Vibrancy Task Force. But the company knew a tower provided an opportunity to do more.

Keith said there were many reasons that being downtown made sense for Stantec. “LRT was a big factor,” Keith said, and admitted it was why some of the other downtown proposals were ultimately ruled out. Being located close to multiple LRT connections was just too appealing. “Cycling routes are also very important,” he said.

Many of the firm’s clients are located downtown and many staff already live there. “Over 50% of our staff are under the age of 35,” he said, noting that increasingly they want to live in the middle of the action. He said being downtown was “a big factor” in thinking about retaining and attracting staff. The trend in cities like Toronto has been for companies to move their offices back into the core from the suburbs, specifically to better tap into the large pool of young, highly educated workers that want to live centrally.

Then of course, there’s the arena district. With the new City of Edmonton tower, a rumored hotel, the arena itself, and potentially more announcements on the way, it’s shaping up to be an exciting area for years to come. If we can pay for it, that is. Keith and the team at Stantec knew they could have a major positive impact by building their tower within the boundary of the CRL, which is a key part of the financing for the arena. “It’s another way for us to support downtown,” he said.

A lasting impact on Edmonton

There’s no question the new building will have a visible impact on Edmonton, dramatically altering the skyline for years to come. But Keith wants the building to change more than just the skyline. “I hope we can inspire others to do more,” he said. “We need to seize the opportunities in front of us.”

“We love what’s going on here in Edmonton, and we want to be part of it.”

Can new President & CEO Tim Reid help Northlands find its way?

Northlands announced today that Tim Reid will step into the role of President and CEO effective September 15, 2014. He takes over from CFO and VP of Corporate Services Sharilee Fossum, who stepped into the role in January when Richard Andersen resigned. Tim is coming off a successful stint in Fort McMurray and inherits an organization facing great uncertainty about its future.

Tim Reid

It was just over a year ago that Tim became CEO of the Regional Recreation Corporation of Wood Buffalo (RRC), the organization responsible designing, building, stewarding, and operating “several state-of-the-art community recreation, sport and event facilities and venues” in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. Prior to that, he was COO of MacDonald Island Park Corporation, precursor to the RRC. Tim will ease into his new role, remaining with the RRC in a supporting capacity for the next six months. The RRC had five projects in the design or construction phase as of January 2014, with a total budget of more than $360 million, including the $127 million Shell Place, slated to open in January 2015.

Tim takes over at a difficult time for Northlands. The organization seems as uncertain as ever about its future, especially in the face of major changes to its core businesses. Will it be an organization focused on agriculture, one focused on meetings & conventions, or one focused on sports & entertainment? Will it find the courage to narrow its focus, or will Northlands continue to straddle three very different industries?

These questions are all the more pertinent now that momentum is firmly behind Rogers Place, the new downtown arena. Despite repeated statements from Northlands officials over the years suggesting they’ll continue operating Rexall Place as-is, the fact is that losing the Edmonton Oilers will have a significant effect on the financial health of the organization. And no one knows if Edmonton can support two large concert venues.

There’s no question that Tim has had a positive impact on Fort McMurray, but can he find similar success here in Edmonton? Granted he doesn’t start for another month, but Tim’s first interviews with the media don’t provide much confidence.

Tim told Metro today that he understands the need to figure out a future for Rexall Place. “We’re trying to put together the data as we speak, so we know exactly what happens when the Oilers and their properties move to another arena,” he said. However, he went on to say that Northlands needs to “find out what opportunities there are for growth on the agriculture side, on the convention and hosting side.”

The downtown arena wasn’t decided yesterday of course – things have been in motion for quite some time now. Are we really to believe that Northlands is only now running the numbers on Rexall Place without the Oilers? I fully appreciate that Tim hasn’t even started yet, so he probably hasn’t seen all the data. He should have just said so. He told reporters that Northlands need to work with the City, Oilers, and Katz Group, but gave no details.

Edmonton Rexall Place

His second comment about finding other opportunities is potentially more concerning, especially coupled with his stated vision for Northlands:

“We want to be the heart of Edmonton and the place where the community goes to celebrate together.”

As a vision it is certainly concise and inspirational, but it’s also vague and generic. It doesn’t say anything about what Northlands is or does. The organization’s 2013 Annual Report lists agriculture, entertainment, trade shows, concerts, horse racing, casino, and conferences as the businesses that Northlands operates in. Its “looking forward” statement is just as confusing:

“As Northlands moves into 2014, we will continue to provide Edmonton and the Capital Region with the best in events and entertainment. We will capitalize on our role as an urban agricultural society by partnering with like-minded organizations to enhance our already robust local food market. As Edmonton’s destination of choice for entertainment, we will continue to bring some of the world’s best performers to our arena. We will build our visitor base for all of our venues by showcasing Northlands as the destination for entertainment, events and the community.”

Founded as an agricultural society 135 years ago, Northlands has never been willing to fully commit to entertainment, even after bringing in Richard Anderson from San Diego where he was GM of PETCO Park and Executive Vice President of the San Diego Padres. Over the years, members of the board have differed greatly on how much importance Northlands should give to its agricultural initiatives. The organization’s roots might be in agriculture, but it’s sporting that defines Northlands today, at least financially.

Without the $21 million that Northlands received in grant revenue in 2013, it would have run a $19.7 million deficit. Its four main businesses – Northlands Park, Rexall Place, Agriculture and Signature Events, and EXPO Centre – accounted for $136 million in revenue. Of that, Northlands Park (horse racing and casino) accounted for 43% and Rexall Place accounted for 28%.

With declining horse racing revenues and the likely loss of business due to competition with Rogers Place, it’s clear that Northlands needs to make a move. But talk of reinvention is easier said than done. With 19 members on its volunteer board of directors and an 18-person board of governors, Northlands currently has a lot of cooks in the kitchen. Tim certainly has his work cut out for him!

I think it’s great that Northlands was able to find someone relatively close to home to be its new leader. Tim has been in Alberta for years and is already familiar with the political climate here. For all its faults, Northlands remains extremely connected to the community. Last year alone, more than 1,100 volunteers donated more than 21,000 hours of their time and Northlands supported more than 80 charitable organizations, investing “more than $1.25 million in cash and value into the community.” I hope he does find success at Northlands and is able to have a positive impact on our city.

Tim, welcome to Edmonton, good luck, and in true Make Something Edmonton fashion, how can I help?

UPDATE: Here’s a post from McMurray Musings’ Theresa Wells on Tim and his leadership abilities.

Downtown Edmonton’s Sobeys on 104 Street will close its doors on July 31

After six years of serving the central downtown Edmonton area, Sobeys will close its 104 Street location on July 31. It’s a disappointing end to a store that, while full of promise at its launch in May 2008, never really lived up to its potential. It’s also a high profile loss for 104 Street, which has seen a number of businesses close over the last year or so, and a potential setback for Edmonton’s ongoing downtown revitalization.

Keri Scobie, Communications Manager for Sobeys West, confirmed the closure yesterday. “It was a really tough decision to make,” she told me. “We knew this was going to be a hot topic of discussion.”

Sobeys on 104 Street

Why has Sobeys decided to close the 104 Street location? The bottom line is…it’s all about the bottom line.

A spokesperson told the Globe and Mail late Wednesday that Sobeys had “identified a number of underperforming stores and we have made the decision to close these stores.” It appears the 104 Street location is one of those underperforming stores, and there approximately 50 in total across the country, according to a Sobeys news release:

“Sobeys has determined that consistently underperforming retail stores, representing approximately 50 stores (1.5 million of total gross square footage) and 3.8 percent of the total retail network gross square footage, will close. Approximately sixty percent of the affected stores are located in Western Canada.”

Sobeys is planning to close three other stores in Edmonton as well: Sobeys Mainstreet in Mill Woods at 6440 28 Avenue, Heritage Sobeys at 2011 111 Street, and Clock IGA at 15445 Stony Plain Road. Employees received letters upon arriving at work yesterday informing them of the planned closures. They’ll have the option of transferring to another location. “We have a lot of vacancies at other stores in Edmonton,” Keri said.

In order to get approval for its purchase of Safeway Canada, Sobeys agreed to sell 30 stores in Western Canada. Co-op agreed to purchase three stores in Edmonton and another three in the region, and the fact that the 104 Street location wasn’t one of them was seen as a vote of confidence from Sobeys. Now Sobeys has made it clear that assumption was invalid.

Two Urban Fresh locations in Toronto are also closing, but the second Edmonton location at College Plaza will remain open, as will ten other locations throughout Ontario.

From Urban Fresh to Closure

At the start, it seemed as though Sobeys wouldn’t have any problem attracting customers. “Again and again, the staff at the front door of the new Sobeys on Jasper Avenue and 104th Street smile and apologize, as they turn away would-be customers,” Paula Simons wrote in May 2008, just days before the store officially opened to the public.

When it first opened, the Sobeys on 104 Street was meant to bring a European-style market to downtown. It was the first location to bring Sobeys’ “urban fresh” concept to life – smaller, featuring local food, more prepared items, a cafe, and other urban-friendly amenities. Relationships with the popular City Market were touted, and excitement was high. While initial feedback was mostly positive, it wasn’t long before elements of the initial vision started to fall away. The building still retains the “urban fresh” branding, but that long ago lost any meaning.

Sobeys on 104 Street

In the summer of 2011, Sobeys on 104 Street caused an uproar in the community when it covered its windows with vinyl. Over the first three years of its existence, the store had fully transformed from “urban fresh” to just another grocery store, and residents saw the vinyl windows as the last straw. Sobeys responded to the criticism by meeting with the community and partially removing the vinyl coverings. The communications director at the time, Mike Lupien, indicated that Sobeys wanted to make the store work. “It’s a community store, it’s a neighbourhood store,” Mike said. “We want to be here, and we want to be here for the long-term.”

Today Keri elaborated on why the 104 Street location was identified for closure. “What happens is the size of the store impacts our ability to deliver our brand promise,” she said. “The smaller formats make it harder to deliver what we want to deliver.” She noted the coffee bar takes up quite a bit of room, and shoppers have complained about the smaller selection of products available. I asked her if any alternatives were considered, such as renovating and changing the layout, but she said “given the space and what we have, it was determined it was the best decision to close.”

As a resident on the street, I’m sad to see the Sobeys close. It was great to be able to walk down the block to pickup some milk or a last minute ingredient. I do think the store suffered from long lineups at the checkout (and no express or self-checkouts) and generally indifferent staff, and that made the experience of shopping there much less enjoyable than it could have been. Though prices did come down over the years, they were still higher than other locations, such as Save-On-Foods over on 109 Street.

What’s the impact on downtown?

Cecil Place is the name of the building that houses Sobeys Urban Fresh, named in recognition of the infamous Cecil Hotel. Developed by John Day who purchased the old hotel in May 2003, Cecil Place was designed by Arndt Tkalcic Bengert Architecture and cost $12.6 million to build (it took 14 months to complete). In 2007, it won an Edmonton Urban Design Award. Jurors commented at the time, “if you want to get people downtown this is the way to do it.”

100_0851
Cecil Place in March 2008, photo by Dave Sutherland

The closure is a loss for 104 Street and downtown, no question. It’s not fatal however, and with new condo towers well underway and the addition of Earth’s General Store in place of the old Pangea organic market further north on 104 Street, I don’t believe the loss of Sobeys will have a lasting impact. Demand will continue to grow as more and more people choose to live downtown and all those new condo towers fill up, and I imagine finding a new tenant for the space today will be much easier than it was back in 2007. Unlike in the past, 104 Street isn’t a gamble anymore.

Sobeys leased the space in Cecil Place, there will be no covenants impacting the ability of another grocer to move in. “That’s not applicable for this location,” Keri clarified. She said the majority of the Sobeys locations being closed were leased.

“If there is a positive,” Keri told me, “it’s that there is a lot of exciting development on the street really reinvigorating that neighbourhood.” However, the bright future of 104 Street wasn’t enough to save the store. “Closing the store was the best decision for us to make.”

What will replace the Sobeys? That remains to be seen, but there’s few other locations downtown that are as attractive as the corner of 104 Street and Jasper Avenue. If I could wave my magic wand, I’d love to see the location turn into a year-round space for the City Market. One can dream, right?

Sobeys in Edmonton

As for Sobeys in Edmonton, Keri told me that Sobeys remains committed. “We see Edmonton as a good market, which is why we’re investing here,” she said. Sobeys is opening a brand new location tomorrow morning in Newcastle at 16943 127 Street. “It’s a new concept store, the third in Western Canada,” Keri explained. “It features a revamped store layout, vibrant colors, and a focus on food discovery throughout the store.” Echoing what was said of Urban Fresh when it opened, Keri suggested the new store will “have a real market feel to it.”

In the cuthroat grocery business, competition is fierce, and Sobeys is constantly evaluating their locations. “We have had great success here in Edmonton,” Keri said, “that’s why we’re bringing the new concept store here.”

Unfortunately, the 104 Street store just hasn’t worked out for Sobeys from a business point-of-view. “We want to thank the community downtown who came in and supported the store,” Keri said.

Recap: TEC VenturePrize 2014

Local entrepreneurs were celebrated tonight at the 12th annual TEC VenturePrize awards celebration in Hall D at the Shaw Conference Centre. More than $200,000 in prizes were handed out to the nine finalists across three competitions!

TEC VenturePrize 2014

Here’s what VenturePrize is all about:

“You have a business idea, but don’t necessarily have the business training to launch your company. The more you brainstorm about transforming your vision into a venture, the more questions you have. What are the legal issues with creating a company? Where is the financing going to come from? Am I targeting the right market? Find out by participating in the TEC VenturePrize business plan competition.”

It’s a great opportunity for participants to make connections with investors and other entrepreneurs, to learn more about what it takes to run a business, and to gain valuable insight from experienced mentors.

TEC VenturePrize 2014

Our host for the evening was Ryan Jespersen from BT Edmonton. Premier Dave Hancock opened the event bringing greetings on behalf of the Province, followed by TEC Edmonton CEO Chris Lumb who brought opening remarks and also presented the Recognition Award to Bob Teskey. His acceptance speech was about twelve seconds long, which helped to contribute to a timely program that finished slightly ahead of schedule.

“Bob envisioned and designed the TEC Edmonton structure: an unincorporated Joint Venture to create strong commitment among Joint Venture partners, enable the University and City ti work together in unique ways, and build linkages between university and community.

This award is presented in recognition of Bob’s role in growing a strong Edmonton, through his outstanding ability to forge institutional partnerships.”

Mayor Iveson was the next speaker. He talked about the changing energy in Edmonton, and said “it’s getting easier to make an idea reality in this city.” Mayor Iveson stayed on stage to help interview the three student competition finalists: AlieoGames, Livi Design, and Smart Count Health. All three were from the University of Alberta!

TEC VenturePrize 2014

This year TELUS came on board to sponsor the first ever ICT Competition at VenturePrize. We heard pitches from the three finalists: It’s Date Night, MyMenu, and Zayfti. You can learn more about each one at TEC Edmonton. Given the ridiculous state of online restaurant menus, I really hope that Edmonton-based MyMenu is successful in its quest to help diners with dietary restrictions. It’ll be tough to get restaurants to upload menus though when so many don’t even keep their own sites up-to-date!

TEC VenturePrize 2014

Since 2002, the Fast Growth competition has awarded more than $1.5 million to Alberta-based entrepreneurs to help them grow their companies, an impressive number of which are still operating! The finalists in this year’s competition were:

Belgravia Tech Inc.

“BTI has created a safe, reliable, and cost effective alternative to a nuclear reactor-generated medical isotope vital for timely diagnosis and management of patient treatment for many major health issues, including cancer and heart problems. BTI’s unique technology is well positioned to fill this critical need and provide healthcare organizations with the means to offer quality care for heart and cancer patients worldwide.”

Localize Services Inc.

“Localize in an Edmonton-based company that helps tell the stories behind the foods we all love. Their unique grocery-shelf labeling service rapidly collects and conveys product information to consumers, making it easy for grocers anywhere to launch local, regional, and domestic food campaigns in their stores. These smartphone-enabled tags and unique “Localize scores” empower shoppers to quickly learn the who, what, where, and how behind thousands of products on grocery shelves across Canada.”

Tactalis

“Tactalis develops amazing tactile tablet computer systems that help people who are blind or visually impaired to explore, create and share images and digital media that they cannot see. Each of their award winning products has a unique touch sensitive interface and embedded tactile display that lets users touch and feel physical representations of features, symbols and graphics on an LCD screen.”

All very interesting companies with great elevator pitches! I think the work that Localize is doing is really important and they delivered a really clear message to the audience this evening. Tactalis has such an interesting product – think of it like braille for the digital era. I can see a huge market for what they’re doing!

TEC VenturePrize 2014

Up next was the keynote speaker, Dianne Buckner. She spoke about the art of the pitch, giving the judges an opportunity to leave the room to make their final deliberations. As the host of CBC’s Dragon’s Den and as a member of the Business Team at CBC News, Dianne knows a thing or two about pitching. Her advice tonight? Do tell a story, don’t let a “dragon” discourage you, do align your goals with those of the person you’re pitching, and don’t be afraid to talk about your weaknesses. She also said to keep in mind that the first thing you’re pitching is always yourself – if they aren’t interested in you or don’t think you’re competent, why would they be interested in your product or service?

TEC VenturePrize 2014

Finally, it was time to find out the winners!

Edmonton Journal People’s Choice Award
Localize Services Inc., with 59.5% of the vote

TEC VenturePrize Student Business Plan Award
AlieoGames

VenturePrize TELUS Information & Communication Technology Award
MyMenu

TEC VenturePrize Fast Growth Grand Prize Award
Localize Services Inc.

It was a big night for Startup Edmonton, as all of the winners and many of the finalists had a connection in some form or another to the organization. It’s great to see the continued positive momentum behind entrepreneurship in Edmonton!

TEC VenturePrize 2014

Congratulations to Localize and to all of the participants, finalists, and winners! Thanks to TEC Edmonton for providing me with a seat tonight to capture the action. You can see more photos from the evening here.

EEDC looks to deliver “monumental value” with new energy, identity, and purpose

When Brad Ferguson took over as President & CEO at Edmonton Economic Development Corporation (EEDC) in the summer of 2012, he knew things had to change. Even though Edmonton’s economic growth remained strong, many leaders throughout the city felt that EEDC could be doing more. Even City Council had begun to lose confidence in the organization, with Councillor Caterina going so far as to suggest that EEDC be shut down if its fortunes weren’t turned around. Brad insisted he was fired up and ready to do the work of remaking the organization.

Brad Ferguson

He wasn’t kidding. The organization today has changed dramatically from the one Brad took over. He opened his speech at last week’s 2014 Impact Luncheon with that context:

“I stood at this podium one year ago knowing a lot had to change. Our organization had lost the confidence of City Council and lost relevance with the business community.”

“I can stand here today proud of the work we’ve done and the changes we’ve made in the last twelve months.”

Over the last year EEDC has clarified its purpose and approach, revamped its brand and visual identity, brought in fresh leadership, and has started to dramatically shift the internal culture of the organization.

Edmonton Economic Development is changing the way it does business. “The culture of winning is what we’re building,” Brad said.

New Purpose & Approach

To bring greater focus to the work of the organization, EEDC has clarified its primary objective:

To ensure the Edmonton Region outperforms every major economic jurisdiction in North America consistently over the next 20 years…regardless if the price of oil is $140 or $40.

That’s a big departure from the organization’s previous (though fleeting) goal statement, which was to become one of the world’s top five mid-sized cities by 2030. It’s a shift from aspirational hyperbole to measurable outcomes, from uncertain ROI for stakeholders to an assured local impact.

In the next three years, Edmonton Economic Development needs to transition from “monumental change” to “monumental value” created for the City of Edmonton.

EEDC’s new website and its 2014-2016 Statement of Intent detail how the organization is evolving to deliver greater value and achieve its objectives. Importantly, EEDC’s strategic direction references the City of Edmonton’s plan on economic development known as The Way We Propser. Rather than duplicating effort or taking different approaches, EEDC envisions itself contributing to the City’s efforts in seven ways. “These seven roles can best be accomplished outside the City of Edmonton, and provide Edmonton Economic Development with a platform for delivering significant value to the economic growth strategy for the City of Edmonton.”

It’s remarkable how little EEDC’s structure has changed since it was formed two decades ago. The four separate organizations that came together have always remained highly visible – the Shaw Conference Centre, Edmonton Tourism, the Edmonton Research Park, and Economic Development. The new approach doesn’t completely move away from those historical silos, but it does make a start.

Edmonton Economic Development will be structured as a conglomerate of six divisions, each with their own expectation of performance and accountability.

The six divisions are:

  • Enterprise Edmonton
  • Edmonton Tourism
  • Shaw Conference Centre
  • Build Edmonton
  • Brand Edmonton
  • Corporate Services

Build Edmonton is slated to be approved and established by April, and will take over ownership of the Edmonton Research Park. Corporate Services is an internally-focused division and one of its key goals will be to earn Top Employer awards by 2015.

Brand Edmonton is perhaps the area of the new EEDC that is most in flux. Sometimes mentioned as a division and other times mentioned as a priority, Brand Edmonton will build on the work of Make Something Edmonton to provide brands, campaigns, and plans for building Edmonton’s brand locally and around the world. While the details about how Make Something Edmonton will continue are still being worked out, it’s clear that EEDC will play a significant role in it’s future (for instance, interim executive director Mary Sturgeon has already moved over to EEDC’s offices). It’s a recognition of the fact that EEDC has a key role to play in telling Edmonton’s story.

Priorities and performance measures for each division have been identified and shared publicly in the Statement of Intent, which speaks to both the competitiveness and accountability that Brad is trying to encourage throughout the organization.

Overall, the 2014-2016 period will be defined by “performance” in a way that will forever differentiate the expectation of Edmonton’s economic development organization.

Forget what you think you know about economic development organizations!

New Brand Identity

One of the most visible ways EEDC is changing is of course it’s new brand identity. EEDC last underwent a major change in 2004, when the name Edmonton Economic Development Corporation was announced on May 7. The organization had been known as Economic Development Edmonton prior to that. Then President Allan Scott said the change would “clearly emphasize what we sell: Edmonton.” The following week, EEDC moved into its current offices at the World Trade Centre (they had been at the Shaw Conference Centre before that).

Now EEDC has dropped the word “Corporation” from its public brand. Though officially (on paper) still known as Edmonton Economic Development Corporation, the public-facing brand will simply be Edmonton Economic Development. Much as Apple dropped “Computer” from its name back in 2007 to better reflect its new business strategy, the change at EEDC brings clarity to the organization’s direction. The emphasis is now clearly on economic development, rather than bureaucracy.

More visually, EEDC worked with DDB Edmonton to develop a new logo for the organization and its divisions:

“Our logo reflects Edmonton Economic Development’s vibrant new culture. It is bold, confident and energetic. Its graphic expression tells the story of big ideas transformed into tangible economic progress for Edmonton.”

Here’s the old logo compared with the new one:

EEDC Logo Before & After

Kevin Weidlich, VP of Marketing & Communications at EEDC, told me that “the old look and feel was inconsistent with the direction” that the organization was headed. When he joined in March 2013, he found himself struggling to explain to friends and family what EEDC does. “I realized that lots of energy was focused on ourselves instead of on our clients”, he told me. “Our brand architecture caused that confusion.”

Howard Poon, DDB’s Design Director, had this to say about the new look:

“What we’re doing with this identity is showcasing EEDC’s vibrant new culture, the entrepreneurial spirit. We’re telling the story of how this organization takes big ideas and transforms them into progress for Edmonton. It’s all about energy and momentum.”

The vertical grey line is viewed as the anchor, representing the organization’s established, grounded and trusted team of experts. The green and gold rays are said to be “bursting forth from the anchor” and they represent “the entrepreneurial dreams, ideas, and actions Edmonton Economic Development transforms into reality.” Green and gold are also seen as a nod to Edmonton’s heritage.

Two of EEDC’s divisions have new logos too, Enterprise Edmonton and Edmonton Tourism.

EEDC Logo Before & After

I remarked that the new logos all looked a bit abstract. The DDB design team (which included David Landreth and Adnan Huseinovic) chose that approach because they felt “it better reflects EEDC’s innovative mindset.” Howard said “a literal symbol or icon doesn’t effectively capture the organization’s personality.”

Helene Leggatt, President of DDB Edmonton, spoke positively about working on the project with EEDC. “There seemed to be a unified sense of purpose,” she told me. It can be tricky with multiple stakeholders to get consensus, but she found everyone at EEDC to be really well-aligned. The project took just 10-12 weeks, from start to finish. “They’re pushing more innovative thinking,” she said. “There’s new energy, new focus, and real fire at EEDC.”

Shaw holds the naming rights on the Shaw Conference Centre until 2016, so that logo remains untouched. Though the new EEDC website still highlights just three divisions, other material frequently mentions Build Edmonton and Brand Edmonton too. I think we can expect a logo for Build Edmonton later this year. Brand Edmonton, on the other hand, is currently envisioned as “a new suite of Edmonton Economic Development brands.”

The voice of EEDC is also evolving. The words “leadership”, “entrepreneurship”, “innovation”, and “competitiveness” permeate the language that EEDC now uses to express its mandate. The new brand guidelines say the tone of voice should be smart, inspiring, sincere, confident, and active.

As a result, the work being produced by EEDC now is less corporate and much more confident. Take the vision statement:

Edmonton, Canada’s economic and entrepreneurial powerhouse: A great northern city filled with unlimited entrepreneurship, education and energy that is a beacon toward which people who crave opportunity will come.

You’d be forgiven if the use of the word “powerhouse” surprised you. Elsewhere in the Statement of Intent you’ll find words like “unstoppable” and “scalable”. These words and phrases are used by energetic organizations like Startup Edmonton, not arms-length municipal bodies! That’s the new brand voice in action.

EEDC also launched a new website at IgniteEdmonton.com. The website doesn’t replace Edmonton.com, but it has become the corporate home of the organization. Plans are still being fleshed out, but it is likely that Edmonton.com will become consumer/tourist-focused. I asked Kevin about the choice of the word “ignite” and he said it perfectly captured the new direction of EEDC. Indeed the new brand guidelines use it to describe EEDC as “the spark that ignites success.”

New Energy

If you’re thinking that all EEDC has done is put on a fresh coat of paint, think again. From its divisional structure to its individual employees, EEDC’s internal changes have been significant.

At the 2014 Impact Luncheon Brad noted that 36% of EEDC’s employees have been with the organization less than a year, and 24% are in new roles or are doing things that didn’t previously exist, which means a full two-thirds of the organization is fresh. The organization’s makeup has changed demographically too. Just 12% of EEDC’s employees are baby boomers, while 42% are Generation X and 46% are Generation Y. They have also achieved a 52-48% male-female split.

One of the first new leaders to come on board was D’Arcy Vane, a director of Enterprise Edmonton. In early 2013, he was joined by Glen Vanstone who was previously the Director of Business Innovation at EIA. Kevin Weidlich came on as VP of Marketing & Communications, followed by Maggie Davison just a couple of weeks later as the VP of Tourism.

In April 2013 Derek Hudson joined to take on the role of Chief Operating Officer. In July 2013, Ken Chapman joined as Executive Director of Northern Initiatives. He was previously the Executive Director of the Oil Sands Developers Group, and he brings relationships and experience that EEDC has long lacked.

These are just a few of the new faces at EEDC. As noted, many existing EEDC employees have moved into new roles at the organization too. For instance, Tammy Pidner has taken on the role of Chief Evangelist.

I asked Kevin what the mood was like as a result of all the change. “Many of the new hires have brought skillsets that never existed in the company before,” he said, noting it has increased EEDC’s capacity. He cited Euna Kang, EEDC’s Creative Manager, as someone who has enabled EEDC to do more in-house than ever before.

“The level of excitement in the company now is palpable,” he told me.

Monumental Value?

When I interviewed Brad after he was just a month or so into the job, he already had a clear picture of the direction he wanted EEDC to go. “I want to fundamentally up the value of the organization to the community and to the City of Edmonton,” he said at the time.

The first step in achieving that was revamping the organization. EEDC today is focused, energized, and confident. But change is easier to bring about than increased value is (let alone monumental value). That’s the challenge facing Brad and everyone at EEDC over the next couple of years – translating all of the positive changes of 2012 and 2013 into results.

One of the things EEDC will need to do to find success is avoid distractions. While important, spearheading the work of image and branding for the city has historically been fraught with peril. Likewise, it can be easy to get drawn into the current political hot potato of the day or to start defining economic development too broadly. Focus is one of the most important things that EEDC has found over the last year, and it would be wise not to lose it.

It is often said that culture trumps strategy, but culture is much more difficult to change than strategy is to develop. New divisions, new logos, and new faces – none of these things come easily, and all are important elements of changing the organization’s culture. EEDC recognizes the challenge:

Developing the right corporate culture is a major undertaking that began in August 2012 and is developing into a strategic asset of Edmonton Economic Development that can never be measured on a balance sheet.

Getting the culture right isn’t the only hill to climb. EEDC will need to rebuild confidence in the business community and earn the trust of our new City Council. All of these things will take time and dedication because they require action. Fortunately, taking action appears to be something that the new EEDC is very good at. Brad promised changes, and he delivered.

Edmonton Economic Development’s mission is “to inspire a culture of entrepreneurship, innovation and competitiveness that forever differentiates our city.” If that wasn’t enough to make you a champion, the new energy and approach that Brad has brought to EEDC should be. The next few years are shaping up to be monumentally exciting.

Recap: Edmonton’s Economic Impact Luncheon 2014

“This is a new Edmonton, with a new mayor, a new confidence, and a new energy,” EEDC President & CEO Brad Ferguson told attendees of the sold-out 2014 EEDC Impact Luncheon today. Hundreds of Edmontonians, including a large number of political dignitaries, filled the Shaw Conference Centre for EEDC’s annual state of the economy. Brad wasted no time in reiterating a message he has been consistently delivering since taking over a little over a year ago. “Our ability to compete and to be different has never been more important,” he said.

Impact 2014

Deputy Premier Dave Hancock brought greetings from the Province of Alberta, and made note of the number of his colleagues that were in attendance. “There are so many of us here, because we believe that the partnership that we have with EEDC, with the City of Edmonton, and with the Capital Region, is so important.”

Mayor Don Iveson also brought opening remarks. “Right now our city is one of the best places in the world to take a risk, launch an idea, or start a business,” the mayor said. “There is a renewed sense of optimism here in Edmonton.”

After lunch, it was on the main event. You can listen to Brad’s entire speech here:

“Last year was a great year,” Brad said. “Our objective was to outperform every other regional economy in North America, and we did.” He highlighted our city’s economic performance and rosy outlook through a series of measures:

2013 2012 Change
GDP $81.675 billion $78.286 billion +4.3%
Population 1.2 million 1.15 million +3.9%
Net Jobs 19,700 26,500 -34.5%
Unemployment 4.8% 4.4% -0.4%
Inflation 1.1% 1.3% -0.2%
Building Permits $3.0 billion $2.5 billion +22.6%
Major Projects $220.0 billion $193.5 billion +13.6%

Obviously the increased GDP, population, and jumps in the number of building permits issued and major projects identified are positive. Brad noted that although the number of jobs created in 2013 was actually down, context is needed. “One out of every ten jobs created across the country was created here,” he told us.

Brad opened his speech with another measure, of course. Last year he rated Edmonton’s efforts on image and branding at 1.5 out of 10. “I didn’t want to understate the work that needed to be done,” he confessed. It was one of the catalysts for the major changes that EEDC has undergone over the last year. His ranking today? With some input from Councillor Sohi, 2.5 out of 10. “We have a long way to go, but it’s a 66.6% improvement over last year!”

Though Edmonton had a strong year in 2013, the future is even brighter. “We’re anticipating us contributing $2.1 trillion of economic contribution to the country” over the next two decades, Brad told the audience. A large reason for this, is development related to the oil sands. But for all the good work going on, Brad said we need to do more.

That led to his core takeaway for the day:

“The only way forward is to embrace the mantra of: cleaner, greener, safer, faster, cheaper. We need to build our industries and build our entrepreneurs, and activate the country in doing so.”

Embracing that mantra is what will lead to the next wave of innovation, key to diversifying our economy, Brad told us. “The oil sands and the industrial supply chain are the platform of which we get to diversification.” And now is the right time, because our capabilities have caught up with our ambitions. “There’s nothing holding us back.”

Brad went on to connect this opportunity with Edmonton’s place in the country. “We can’t do it alone,” he said. “We need to open up the access point and invite the rest of the country to participate.”

With that, Brad described five big priorities for the year ahead:

  1. Alert the world to the energy in Edmonton
  2. Attract & active those seeking opportunity
  3. Enhance & expand our influence as an economic powerhouse
  4. Diversify by using our strengths as a platform for innovation
  5. Operate as one interconnected, interdependent region

On that last point, he noted “that doesn’t mean amalgamation all the time.” Instead, Brad called for relationships and partnerships with other communities.

“Gone are the days where things happen to us,” Brad declared. “Our strategy is sound, our success lies in our ability to move forward with intention.” It was a confident conclusion to an excellent speech.

Impact 2014

Once again the Edmonton Journal livestreamed the event. You can watch part one here, and part two here.

The luncheon was also an opportunity for EEDC to launch its 2014-2016 Statement of Intent:

The decade ahead will be one where competitiveness will take on a whole new meaning in everything we do. Alberta is expected to continue as a high-growth jurisdiction in a low- growth world, making Edmonton a prime location for the attraction of business, investment and people. Global demand for resources will drive opportunities for capital expansion, while also attracting an aggressive assortment of new competitors in search of a share of the local market. These realities will have significant impact on our local economy, and the role of an effective economic development agency has never been more important.

You can learn more about EEDC and what they have planned for 2014 at their new website. You can read my recap of last year’s event here.

Preview: Launch Party Edmonton 4

Tomorrow evening is Edmonton’s fourth Launch Party, an event which “celebrates and showcases the hottest startups in town.” These are companies that have recently launched and which are ready to pursue the next level of growth.

Launch Party isn’t your typical networking event or trade show. It’s a party designed to celebrate and showcase the rockstar entrepreneurs in our community. Drinks, DJs, and great company all await you at Launch Party!

Launch Party is for everyone in the community – students, media, investors, entrepreneurs, designers, consumers – if you’re interested in starting, growing and supporting local startups, then Launch Party is the place to be!

There’s an impressive list of Launch Party alumni in Edmonton, including Mover, Yardstick, Poppy Barley, and Jobber. Now we get an opportunity to see another ten grow and hopefully succeed!

presenting companies

Here are the presenting companies for Launch Party 4:


AccentFree

FOUNDED: April 2013
TWO WORDS: Linguistics Training
WHAT: “People have difficulty speaking new languages because their mouths have been trained to move in a different way. AccentFree is a personal linguistics engine to help retrain how people speak. Our products level the playing field for ESL speakers, giving them equal career and social opportunities, and turn smartphones into personal linguistic tutors.”
KEY PEOPLE: Michael Brougham
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: I’m personally unfamiliar with AccentFree, though it’s clear that founder Michael has a passion for the beauty of the human voice. ESL itself is a large industry here in Alberta, and with a large and growing influx of newcomers, there’s a lot of demand for services and solutions to support them.

Cinder

FOUNDED: May 2011
TWO WORDS: Game Platform
WHAT: “Cinder.io is an independent focused, games development platform that connects dedicated producers with passionate players. The diverse system allows audiences to enjoy products online and contribute to the evolution games through feedback, collaboration and funding. This provides the producer with a richer and more flexible environment in which to validate, fund and promote their products with the most relevant audience.”
KEY PEOPLE: Pieter Parker, Sean Kopen
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: DemoCamp Edmonton 14 (Pieter, with Bit Shift Games)
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: Despite both Sony & Microsoft launching new consoles this month, the gaming industry remains in flux. We’re gaming more, but in different ways, and the likelihood that aspiring game developers can make something is ever-increasing. Cinder will be entering an already competitive market, but there’s lots of potential.

DriveWyze

FOUNDED: 2012
TWO WORDS: Weigh-Station Bypass
WHAT: “Drivewyze Inc., provider of the leading electronic weigh station bypass service, Drivewyze PreClear, enables commercial vehicle operators to maximize cost savings by reducing weigh station pull-ins and increases road safety by enabling law enforcement agencies to focus on non-compliant commercial vehicles. Drivewyze partners with industry leaders including Electronic Logging Device manufacturers, trucking associations and government stakeholders to deliver the next generation of weigh station bypass solutions.”
KEY PEOPLE: Doug Johnson, Brian Heath, Jason Ding
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: AlwaysOn Global 250 Winner
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: Can we still call Drivewyze a startup? A subsidiary of Intelligent Imaging Systems, Drivewyze already has more than 230 sites and numerous partnerships. In August 2013, the company raised $7.5 million in funding from Emergence Capital Partners and iNovia Capital. The company has hit upon a cost-effective solution in a big, big market.

Dryrun

FOUNDED: January 2012
TWO WORDS: Financial Forecasts
WHAT: “Dryrun is a software as a service (SaaS) product built for small businesses to forecast their cash flow, compare their options and understand their business. Improving on the familiar spreadsheet, it’s fast, easy, clear and collaborative.”
KEY PEOPLE: Blaine Bertsch
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: DemoCamp Edmonton 23
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: Dryrun is gearing up to launch later this year, and already it’s a highly functional, attractive service. Blaine’s background in design has served him well in the creation of what could be a fairly boring tool. I think the key to success will be integrations, with services like FreshBooks.

Localize

FOUNDED: June 2011
TWO WORDS: Local Labels
WHAT: “Localize makes it easy for grocery stores to launch and maintain highly credible local food campaigns. Our shelf-labelling service identifies local and regional products right on the store shelf, and provides customers with an easy way to find more information about where each product has come from when they scan the QR code that is found on each label. We have launched the Localize service into over 50 grocery stores in Alberta, partnered with over 300 food producers, and have profiled over 3500 food products. We are currently growing the program into BC and Saskatchewan.”
KEY PEOPLE: Meghan Dear
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: Semi-Finalist in VenturePrize, Social Enterprise World Forum
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: Fresh off a $20,000 win in the Good Deals Venture Pitch Competition, Localize has some momentum at the moment. With a growing network of grocery stores and a really impressive number of producers, Localize is well-positioned to capitalize on the incredible interest in local food in Alberta and beyond.

Pinshape

TWO WORDS: 3D Printing
WHAT: “pinshape is a 3D printing community marketplace for 3D printable models. Users can explore models from the world’s leading 3D designers to learn, share, download, and order physical 3D prints through pinshape’s professional 3D print service. Designers can upload their work and share it for free or sell it for profit. With a fluid pinboard interface, life-like 3D rendering, and individually tailored content, pinshape is organizing the world’s 3D designs, and changing how we explore 3D creativity.”
KEY PEOPLE: Nick Schwinghamer
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: DemoCamp Edmonton 23, TEC Edmonton/Fundica Funding Roadshow
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: I’m positive that one day we’ll all have 3D printers in our homes, just as inkjets are so ubiquitous today. Part community and part app store, pinshape is the kind of service that will bridge the gap between experts and designers and those of us that just want access to this amazing technology.

SAM

FOUNDED: March 2013
TWO WORDS: Asset Management
WHAT: “SAM is an online social asset management platform for news and media professionals. We’re building the most powerful search tools to empower journalists to intentionally find meaningful content from social networks and constructing an asset management platform to make it easy to work with these social assets throughout the media lifecycle (newsgathering to broadcast and publish). To put it another way, SAM is a CMS for Tweets, Instagrams, Youtube Videos and any other social content that is essential to News Coverage, Content Production and Journalism.”
KEY PEOPLE: James Neufeld
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: DemoCamp Edmonton 22, News Xchange Startup Alley
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: Social media is here to stay, with tweets, photos, and other posts already integral to the news gathering and sharing process. They’re not very integrated though, and that’s the problem SAM is looking to solve. There’s a lot of interest in new approaches to media, and SAM could have an angle that not many have considered yet.

Scope Technologies

FOUNDED: November 2010
TWO WORDS: Augmented Reality
WHAT: “Scope Technologies develops user-guided Augmented Reality Solution with focus in Industrial markets including mining, oil and gas, military, aerospace, and manufacturing. Our solution is primarily developed for the purpose of training and maintenance. Essentially, our solution is an extension of any manual or document, and creates a “see-it, do-it” process. Our process involves a full understanding of the challenges of the client, whether it entails and unskilled labor force, trying to minimize mistakes in maintaining equipment, or saving time. We ensure that our solution is practical for the customer, which could significantly impact the hardware that the solution is deployed on – including tablets, glasses, or a combination.”
KEY PEOPLE: David Nedohin, Scott Montgomerie, Graham Melley, Reg Cheramy
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: DemoCamp Edmonton 21
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: There’s a ton of interest right now in wearable computing as well as augmented reality (and some predict that gadgets in the category could save companies $1 billion within 3-5 years) . Their demo back in April focused on using augmented reality for training, an already large and growing market with a lot of potential, especially here in industrial Alberta. They’ve got a talented team and an important supporter is Epson who makes the Moverio glasses they use.

SportingCharts

FOUNDED: September 2011
TWO WORDS: Sports Analytics
WHAT: “SportingCharts is enhancing the way people view and understand sports. We are dedicated to improving the analytics of sports by providing tools, resources and visuals, to better arm teams, fantasy players and bettors in their decision making and produce more informed fans.”
KEY PEOPLE: Cory Wagner, Chad Langager
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: Make Something Edmonton
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: People love their sports. Chad and Cory were previously with Investopedia, so they know a thing or two about data analysis! I regularly see people linking to the charts at SportingCharts.com, which is why it’s so interesting to me – there’s a lot of people interested in the data but they don’t necessarily know what to do with it. Their new ChartBuilder tool is a look at things to come. In addition to data and analytical tools, SportingCharts has expanded into opinion articles with more than 20 contributors.

Visio Media

FOUNDED: July 2011
TWO WORDS: Elevator Advertising
WHAT: “Visio Media tenders digital elevator advertising space in commercial and residential properties by installing Android based tablets. Visio tablets are equipped with state of the art technology that provides exact impressions and accurate demographics like age, gender and duration of stare. As well as NFC (Near Field Communication) technology that allows the audience to simply tap their smartphones on the elevator tablets to engage with advertisements.”
KEY PEOPLE: Fouad El-Masri, Nicolette Leonardis, Sami Al Askari
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: Alberta Venture
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: They’ve installed screens in elevators in more than a dozen locations since February, and have even provided screens to Southgate Mall and Mill Woods Town Centre. They’ve signed up dozens of advertisers, and just recently launched support for NFC to enable some interesting new scenarios. We’ve had the screens in my condo building since the summer, and I can definitely see the potential.


The event gets underway at 6:45pm at Startup Edmonton. Unfortunately the event is already sold out, but keep an eye on social media for details about all the companies!

You can see my previous Launch Party previews here: #1, #2 Recap, #3.