Recap: 2012 State of the City Address

Mayor Stephen Mandel took the stage yesterday during lunch to address the hundreds of local business, community, and government leaders in attendance at the Chamber of Commerce’s annual State of the City event. As expected, most conversations were about Monday’s provincial election and Mayor Mandel did touch on that subject in his remarks. I would characterize the mayor’s speech as upbeat, and as Councillor Iveson remarked, perhaps that was because of Monday’s result!

You can read Mayor Mandel’s speech in its entirety here (PDF). He started strong, recalling a particularly memorable comment he made seven years ago:

“I remember the first time I stood here, and I uttered the words ‘no more crap’. On that day, I not only got away with cursing in public, but touched on a sentiment we had all been feeling for many years.”

Whether you like Mandel or not, I think he’s right to point out that during his tenure as mayor, the city has changed significantly and for the better:

“Seven years ago, we were a city organization with no big plans, that avoided dealing with significant challenges and left our true potential unexplored.

Seven years later, we are Canada’s fastest growing city at the core of the country’s second fastest growing region. And we have shaken off a ‘good enough’ pattern by taking care to invest in ourselves and our future.”

Mandel praised the work of City Council and Administration, especially under City Manager Simon Farbrother, for making that happen.

Mayor's State of the City Address 2012

Throughout this remarks, Mandel mentioned a number of projects and initiatives underway in the city. There was big applause for the new downtown arena, the new Royal Alberta Museum, and the City Centre Redevelopment. But he also touched on some of the challenges we face, including the expansion of the LRT, our ongoing struggle with homelessness, and the strong need to better work with and celebrate our growing Aboriginal community. But he saved his most critical remarks for our city’s identity:

“First, we must have an economic development organization that better demonstrates its understanding of the competitive environment our city faces. It must be hungry enough to undertake a relentless effort to sell our city.

Second, we must finally look past all of our reluctant half-efforts to actually work at promoting Edmonton’s story. Without a commitment to this, the former will be very different.

We must be willing to put proper, long-term resources behind a true effort to sell this city to the world.”

Mandel saved his comments on the province for the end. After congratulating Premier Redford and all of the candidates who ran in the election, he made it clear that Edmonton expects change too.

“From our perspective, this election demonstrated how clearly Alberta’s growing urban reality is a major change that has fully dawned on the provincial stage. This election presented near unanimous agreement that it is time for a new deal for Alberta’s big cities. I look forward to working with Premier Redford and Mayor Nenshi to move this agenda forward. I hope this is a discussion we can begin to have very soon.”

Mayor's State of the City Address 2012

The mayor finished his remarks by talking about the people of Edmonton:

“Our place in this great province, our unique economic advantages, our strong cultural identity, our skills at cultivating knowledge and innovation – and most of all, the passion and drive of our people – are the things that are going to ensure our future success.”

All throughout the speech, tweets were displayed on screen and there was a high level of participation from people in the audience. It was really interesting to see how everyone reacted as Mandel spoke. After he finished, Mayor Mandel received a standing ovation.

Reading the speech is one thing, but actually hearing the mayor deliver it is quite another. Thanks to Robin Bobocel and the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce for inviting me to the luncheon!

2011-2012 State of the City Report

state of the cityIn conjunction with yesterday’s address, the City launched its annual report to citizens. The 35 page document covers a wide range of achievements and ongoing initiatives. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Edmonton’s percentage rate of increase in immigration from 2006 to 2010 was 71%, the highest of seven major cities across Canada.
  • The 2011 Graffiti Audit results show a 43% decrease in graffiti vandalism in 20 high-incident neighbourhoods compared to a 2010 baseline audit.
  • As of December 31, 2011, the Cornerstones initiative increased Edmonton’s supply of affordable housing by funding 3038 safe, affordable housing units for citizens.
  • Edmonton roadcrews repaired 549,000 potholes in 2011, up from 435,000 in 2010.
  • Corporations donated 82,470 transit tickets to the Donate A Ride program in 2011.
  • Weekly cumulative bus and LRT boardings increased from 389,224 in 2010 to 397,402 in 2011.
  • Edmonton has protected 4000 hectares of natural areas, working towards a goal of 5500 ha. Most Edmontonians (75%) are now within a 20-minute walk of a natural area.
  • The City’s total debt in 2011 was $1.974 billion, or 53.7% of the debt limit defined by the Municipal Government Act.
  • 34,800 new jobs were created in Edmonton from December 2010 to December 2011, the fastest rate of job growth in Canada, according to Statistics Canada.

You can download the report in PDF here.

Recap: 2012 EEDC Annual Luncheon

Yesterday was EEDC’s Annual Luncheon at the Shaw Conference Centre. Now in its 17th year, the event was just as well attended as it was last year! Hosted by Manfred Kalk, Client Services Manager of the SCC, the event was an opportunity to learn about some recent changes at EEDC, to get an update on Edmonton’s economy, and to recognize three organizations that have made significant achievements in recognition, innovation, and community leadership.

First up was EEDC board chair Henry Yip, who talked about some recent successes in our province and about how Alberta can continue to succeed in the future. He also provided some updates on EEDC itself, thanking outgoing president Ron Gilbertson for all of his hard work over the last few years. Outgoing board members include Laura Schuler, Bob Gomes, and Peter Kiss, not to mention Henry Yip himself. The incoming board chair is Peter Silverstone.

EEDC board member Richard Brommeland was up next to hand out the annual achievement awards. The three winners were:

  • Donovan Creative Communications for recognition (those who bring extensive positive awareness and sustained name recognition of Edmonton).
  • Quantiam Technologies for innovation (those who have created or changed a product, process or business practice creating the broadest impact).
  • Homeward Trust Edmonton for community leadership (those who best engage our community or industry to achieve impactful positive change).

Each had the opportunity to speak for a few minutes after receiving their award, and a video was played for each organization as well. From the press release:

"Shortlisting the submissions was not an easy task," notes Richard Brommeland, EEDC board member and chair of the award selection committee. "The award winners do amazing work, and we are the better for them calling Edmonton home."

I know Donovan’s work fairly well. Among other things, they are responsible for EPL’s Spread the words campaign as well as EIA’s Stop the Calgary Habit. It’s great to see them recognized for bringing greater recognition to Edmonton. Quantiam I was not familiar with, but I learned that they are a nanotechnology company that recently created a joint venture with BSAF, the world’s largest chemical company. Exciting to hear that kind of thing happening here in Edmonton! And finally, Homeward Trust is an organization that is doing such important work in our city, so it’s completely appropriate that they were singled out for community leadership. Susan and her team have set the bar high. Congratulations to all three! You can see their videos here.

The keynote speaker was Ron Gilbertson himself, and he spent his time giving us an update on Edmonton’s economic report card (which you can look at here in PDF).

"Edmonton has a remarkable economic story. In 2011, our economy grew and showed momentum, and we are poised for a bright future," says Gilbertson. "Combine that with our quality of life, we are well on our way to becoming recognized as one of the world’s top mid-sized cities."

Overall, we received an “A-Minus” on our report card. The four main areas we need to work on are Office Vacancy Rates (C+), Inflation Rate (C), Annual Growth of Passenger Traffic at EIA (B), and Unemployment Rate (B+).

As everyone knows, our economy is built on oil and gas. Current and planned investment in the oil sands is around $290 billion, and that number is expected to grow. But we know it can’t last forever, something Ron acknowledged. “Should oil ever lose its lustre, we don’t really have a plan B.”

For the most part though, everyone was pretty upbeat about the local economy and our prospects for the future.

My thanks again to EEDC for hosting me at the luncheon! Be sure to follow @EEDC on Twitter for updates.

YEGWOOD Launch Party & TreeFarer Shades Giveaway!

yegwoodOne of the highlights of this year’s Fringe Festival was Sustainival, an amusement park on the grounds featuring carnival rides powered by used vegetable oil (Sharon wrote about our experience here). With sales of more than 25,000 rides and lots of positive feedback, the first iteration of Sustainival was a big success for founder Joey Hundert. Now he’s focused on his next venture: YEGWOOD.

YEGWOOD is a group of fashion & environmentally conscious people. We like our style and we love our planet.

We’re also from Edmonton, which isn’t necessarily a global hub of progressive fashion. We’re not knocking our small town of a million people, but great wears can be hard to find here. So, we set about our task of bringing absolutely righteous apparel & accessories to YEG. Thus, YEGWOOD was born.

I remember seeing the Yegwood booth at the Fringe Festival, and of course it caught my eye because of the name. Their first product was the WeWOOD watch, a line of watches made from recycled wood. Now they’re offering wooden sunglasses, also using recycled wood. And maybe soon, prescription glasses too:

“We have our labs here in Edmonton and we have been experimenting with prescription frames, so all of the folks who have inquired about using our glasses for their day-to-day glasses, we will be able to offer something soon.  In the mean time, we have some seriously beautiful sun glasses for Albertans to enjoy during our upcoming sunny winter (yes, we are willing a sunny winter to happen).”

To celebrate, Yegwood is hosting a launch party on December 17 at Da Capo. You can see the event details on Facebook or on ShareEdmonton. One of the highlights is a photo booth sponsored by Georgie Magazine. Simply get your photo taken wearing a part of the sunglasses and you could win a pair for free!

Here’s a promo video for the event featuring the Da Capo crew:

I’d encourage you to check out the event to learn more about Yegwood and the new sunglasses. If you can’t make it though, don’t worry – Yegwood has given me one pair of TreeFarer sunglasses to give away here!

The TreeFarers are inspired by the classic Ray-Ban Wayfarer. The rust FRAMES & TEMPLES (arms) are made out of a reddish softwood with a tight grain pattern. The HINGES are spring-loaded to flex in either direction (in & out), ensuring the right fit across a broad spectrum of faces. The LENSES are polarized poly-carbonate with a medium tint; they are UV400 rated. 

The glasses have a retail value of $119. There are only about 50 available for the holiday season!

To enter the contest, simply leave a comment below telling me how you plan to live more sustainably in Edmonton in 2012. The winner will be picked at random from the comments. The contest closes at 12:00 AM on December 18 (midnight on the evening of the 17th).

You can like Yegwood on Facebook to keep up-to-date on news and announcements. Check out Metro’s article on Yegwood too.

EPCOR’s 120th Anniversary

Last night EPCOR held an event to celebrate its 120th anniversary. A few dozen EPCOR employees, board members, VIPs, and other guests met on the 20th floor of the new tower for a brief program before being invited up to the 28th floor for a reception and the opportunity to step out onto the balcony of Edmonton’s tallest building. President & CEO Don Lowry spoke briefly about EPCOR’s history and the opportunities ahead. He also thanked Mayor Mandel for his leadership and presented him with a pair of ice grips for his shoes, a nod to the Mayor’s recent slip and fall.

EPCOR's 120th

The 28th floor of the building is where EPCOR’s executive and legal offices will be located, and they are set to move in this week – the last of EPCOR’s employees to do so. I’m told the interior was being worked on right up to the reception, but the last minute completion didn’t show. Guests were invited out onto the balcony for a unique view of Edmonton at night.

Edmonton from Above
Looking north

Edmonton from Above
Looking west

Edmonton from Above
Looking back at downtown

There seem to be more opportunities to look south (from the Crowne Plaza, Coast Edmonton House, or the CWB building, etc.) so the view north is not one most Edmontonians are familiar with. It’s amazing at night to see just how far the lights go. You can see my post about the new EPCOR Tower here.

EPCOR's 120th

Founded on October 23, 1891 as the Edmonton Electric Lighting and Power Company, EPCOR has grown significantly over the years, and today provides water, wastewater, and electrical distribution services to over 1 million people across Western Canada. With a series of acquisitions in Arizona and New Mexico, EPCOR is becoming a series player outside of Canada as well.

Here are a few highlights from EPCOR’s history:

  • 1891: Electric lights come on in Edmonton.
  • 1903: First water treatment plant built at Rossdale
  • 1933: Edmonton’s first traffic light installed at Jasper Avenue and 101 Street
  • 1955: Rossdale switches from coal to gas
  • 1976: E.L. Smith Water Treatment Plant opens
  • 1996: EPCOR Utilities Inc. formed
  • 1999: Aqualta renamed EPCOR
  • 2009: Capital Power Corporation established

EPCOR was named one of Western Canada’s 10 Most Admired Corporate Cultures and one of Alberta’s Top 50 Employers in 2010 (see a full list of awards here). President & CEO Don Lowry was named Alberta Venture’s Business Person of the Year in 2010 as well.

Here’s to another 120 years!

EPCOR Community Essentials Council

At EPCOR’s Annual General Meeting yesterday, the EPCOR Community Essentials Council (ECEC) was officially announced:

“The EPCOR Community Essentials Council provides funding to not-for-profit groups who’s initiatives directly align with EPCOR’s water and wires businesses, and our mandate of delivering life essentials to customers and the community,” said Don Lowry, EPCOR President and CEO. “We are pleased that our new Council is able to help strengthen the communities where EPCOR operates.”

As Graham Hicks wrote today, “imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.” One could argue that TELUS has certainly led the way when it comes to community investment here in Edmonton, and during his remarks yesterday Don Lowry gave credit to the TELUS Community Boards for setting the example. I think it’s fantastic that EPCOR has revamped its approach to community investment, and I think the creation of the ECEC is a wonderful thing for Edmonton and all of the other communities EPCOR serves.

I’m very honored and happy to be a part of the inaugural council. It’s an incredible group of people!

EPCOR Community Essentials Council

From left-to-right: Matthew Herder, Utility Worker, Distribution and Transmission, EPCOR; Elizabeth O’Neill, Executive Director, Big Brothers Big Sisters; Mack Male, Software Engineering Manager, Questionmark Computing & Founder, Paramagnus Developments; Robert Walker, Vice President, Building Division (Northern Alberta), Ledcor Construction Ltd.; Jamie Pytel, Acting Associate General Council & Acting Assistant Corporate Secretary, EPCOR; Jeffrey Lloyd, Vice President, Stantec Consulting Ltd.; Ruth Kelly, Chair, EPCOR Community Essentials Council, President & Publisher, Venture Publishing Inc.; Frank Mannarino, Divisional Vice President, Water Operations, EPCOR; Leigh-Anne Palter, Vice Chair, EPCOR Community Essentials Council, Vice President, Public & Government Affairs, EPCOR; Simon Farbrother, City Manager, City of Edmonton; Patti Lefebvre, Dean, Faculty of Foundational & Intercultural Studies, NorQuest College.

The council supports initiatives that align with EPCOR’s community investment philosophy:

EPCOR’s Community Essentials Council (ECEC) will support initiatives which PROVIDE MORE of the ESSENTIALS required to enhance the quality of life in the communities EPCOR serves.  The most essential elements of strong communities and strong families are:  Food (Water); Shelter (Safety and Energy); and Education. These three elements are the pillars of EPCOR’s new community investment approach.

Here’s a video introducing the ECEC:

It’s important to note that the ECEC is just one of the ways that EPCOR supports worthy causes in our community. The company will continue with sponsorships and other partnerships as well. For example, EPCOR is the Season Sponsor of the Citadel Theatre, and that won’t change as a result of the creation of the ECEC.

EPCOR AGM

We recently had our first meeting and worked through the applications totaling more than $400,000. Our chair, Ruth Kelly, did a great job of facilitating the meeting. It certainly wasn’t easy, but in the end we awarded grants totaling $100,000 to seven worthy projects. It was great to meet Kyle Dube, Executive Director at YOUCAN Edmonton, and a few of the other recipients at yesterday’s AGM! You can see the full list of recipients here.

I knew about many of the organizations that had applied, but was quite pleased to be able to learn about some new ones too. There are so many amazing initiatives underway! If your organization would like to apply for funding from the ECEC, you can learn more and fill out the form here (also check out the FAQ for applicants). You can also seek sponsorship or other long-term support from EPCOR as well.

Thanks to EPCOR and ECEC Chair Ruth Kelly for the opportunity to be a part of this great initiative! You can learn more about the ECEC here.

Recap: TEC VenturePrize 2011

The annual TEC VenturePrize awards luncheon was held at the Westin Edmonton today, and I was fortunate enough to attend as a guest of TEC Edmonton. The Alberta-wide business plan competition is one of the ways that TEC Edmonton helps entrepreneurs access mentorship, networking, and exposure opportunities in our province. Some of the recent success stories from VenturePrize include Yardstick Software and Seek Your Own Proof.

The competition is broken into two categories: fast growth, and student. Finalists in the fast growth category compete for over $150,000 in cash and in-kind services, while finalists in the student competition compete for $10,000 cash.

Ryan Jespersen once again hosted the festivities, and I thought he did a really great job of incorporating tweets into the program. Lots of people in the audience were tweeting about the event and their favorite companies using the #ventureprize hashtag. Part of that online interest might have been due to the fact that the awards luncheon was streamed online for the first time this year.

2011 TEC VenturePrize Awards Luncheon

Ryan kicked things off with a sit-down interview on stage with the three finalists in the student category:

  • GizmoBooks.com (Gezim Hoxha, University of Lethbridge)
    Website offering students an easy way to buy and sell textbooks and save money.
  • Nougat Software Entertainment (Tyrel Schick, University of Lethbridge) (archive)
    Video game development company designing/creating innovative, full scale games for a wide range of platforms.
  • AltaCap Energy Solutions (Trina Salvisberg & team, University of Alberta) (archive)
    Focused on the development, production, and marketing of ultracapacitors that feature cutting edge electrode technology.

I don’t think the interview approach has ever been done before, and I thought it worked well. It was great to feature the students more prominently in the program.

Next we had introductory remarks from TEC Edmonton CEO Chris Lumb and Mayor Stephen Mandel, and then it was time to meet the finalists in the fast growth category. Each finalist had the opportunity to deliver a one minute elevator pitch, followed by a three minute video describing their product and/or business.

CAD Crowd helps firms hire CAD staff globally enabling the effective sourcing of CAD work through their relationships with quality-certified partners and an enterprise project management software tailored specifically to manage and facilitate CAD projects.

  • lightPower (Edmonton)

lightPower builds flexible plastic solar panels with long-term stability which can be integrated in consumer electronic products or used as stand-alone battery chargers. Flexible plastic solar panels are fabricated through roll-to-roll printing techniques, enabling high throughout, low-cost manufacturing.

VibeDX is a patent-pending medical device for diagnosis of injuries, pathologies and fitness of the back and spine. With a 99+% accuracy in diagnosing disc damage that holds promise to improve long term outcomes and quality of life for millions of back pain sufferers.

Rant: You’ll note that CAD Crowd and GizmoBooks are the only two with links to actual company websites. If the others have websites, I can’t find them. You would think that in 2011 this wouldn’t be an issue, but it is. If I can’t type your name into Google and find you, you’re doing something wrong, I don’t care what industry you’re in. And yes, I recognize that these entrepreneurs are focusing on product development, but seriously, not even a simple landing page?! Come on.

After all the pitches were complete, Ryan quickly described how the judging process works, and the judges made a show of leaving the room for their final deliberations. I was surprised to see them return just a few minutes later – usually it takes longer, so I figured they must really have had a favorite! Judges in the fast growth category included Warren Bergen from Webbco International Inc., Rod Charko from Alberta Enterprise Fund, Roy Homyshin from TSX Venture Exchange, Mike Scarth from Alberta WaterSMART, and Shawn Abbott from iNovia Capital. Judges in the student category included Colin Christensen from Signa Venture Development, Troy Deck from Meyers Norris Penny, Don Riep from Yardstick Software Inc., and Jim Spiers from Right Field Marketing. In addition to the judges there were twelve screeners, whose job it was to select the finalists from the many resume submissions. This year, the Screeners’ Award of Merit went to Inspectacar, for their business focused on delivering “nothing but accurate vehicle inspections”.

2011 TEC VenturePrize Awards Luncheon

Our keynote speaker was up next – Evan Chrapko, an entrepreneur currently focused on Highmark Renewables. Evan shared a few stories from his experiences as an entrepreneur, and hammered home the theme of “persistence pays”. I wrote about Evan’s transition into Highmark back in 2007, and he’s still at it, so he obviously practices what he preaches. Evan left the audience with five pieces of advice:

  1. Know thyself, and know your timespan (how much time you can actually devote).
  2. Know thy business partner (consider legal advice up front, even if it seems costly).
  3. Trust your instincts.
  4. Network with others (he encouraged everyone to leave with ten other business cards).
  5. Persistence pays.

Finally, it was time for the announcement of the winners. Annette Trimbee from Alberta Advanced Education & Technology presented the awards for the student category, with Trina’s team at AltaCap taking the top prize!

2011 TEC VenturePrize Awards Luncheon

Chris Lumb presented the awards for the fast growth competition, with the win going to VibeDX!

2011 TEC VenturePrize Awards Luncheon

It definitely seemed like VibeDX was the favorite. I have to admit that I really love the concept behind their technology – taking an approach used in other industries (such as stress-testing an airplane wing) and applying it to the human body. Their video was also quite impressive, as it had at least five doctors offering either testimonials or rosy predictions for the technology. Here’s a video describing how VibeDX works:

Congrats to all of the participants and finalists this year, and of course to the winners! You can see more photos from today’s event here.

If you’re interested in participating in next year’s VenturePrize, check the website this fall for registration details. You can also follow @TECVenturePrize on Twitter.

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.

Recap: Mayor Mandel’s 2011 State of the City Address

Today I had the opportunity to attend the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce’s annual State of the City Luncheon at the Shaw Conference Centre. Hall D was absolutely packed with government, business, and community leaders – it was a really great turnout! The keynote speaker was of course Mayor Stephen Mandel, who delivered his latest State of the City Address, which you can read in PDF here (the archive of speeches is here).

2011 State of the City
Bella Rouge performed right before Mayor Mandel delivered his address.

Mayor Mandel started off talking about the “amazing arts community in Edmonton”. He talked about the importance of cultivating and investing in our arts industry, and made it clear: “Yes arts are an industry.” He talked about a new arts visioning committee that has been struck, co-chaired by Brian Webb and Diane Kipnes, to focus on raising the profile of arts in Edmonton.

He moved on to discuss working with citizens, something I have been thinking about a lot lately. He said:

And as much as I know we have more to learn in the area of citizen input, we have undertaken more citizen discussion in the last six years than at any other point in our city’s history.

I think Mayor Mandel understands that the way we’ve been doing things isn’t working. The expectations are greater, from both citizens and from the City of Edmonton employees that work so hard on their behalf. We can definitely improve when it comes to public involvement, and I think Mayor Mandel would absolutely be supportive of any such improvements.

2011 State of the City

The big news came about halfway through the address as Mayor Mandel was thanking Premier Stelmach for his support of the city. The Province has committed $497 million in new capital funding (through Green Trip) that will enable us to finish the LRT extension to NAIT.

And today, I am very privileged to say we have received assurances from the Province that money for our NAIT line – almost $500 million in new capital funding – has been secured through Green Trip. This new capital pay-on-progress money has already started to flow with $70 million advanced in 2010 through Green Trip. The balance of the province’s commitment is now confirmed which means LRT to NAIT is right on schedule.

The official Government of Alberta news release is here.

With the approval of the City’s submission for this LRT project, the province has provided $70 million from budget 2010-11 to the City of Edmonton to cover project costs already incurred. The remaining payments will be allocated to the City as progress on construction is made.

This is a big deal in my opinion, and while it did receive a pause and applause during the address, I wish a little more time had been spent on the issue. We cannot understate the impact transit will have on transforming Edmonton into the kind of city we want and need. Mayor Mandel did acknowledge the lack of support Edmonton has received from the federal government, saying that “what’s missing is full engagement of Ottawa on the big city file.” He called for citizens to speak out on the need for an urban agenda, something I can definitely get behind.

Mayor Mandel next spent a few minutes talking about the proposed downtown arena, expressing his “sincere hope that Council will take some constructive steps forward” when the issue is discussed at tomorrow’s Council meeting. “This is a project that has the potential to accelerate our efforts to bring more people, more energy and more activity to our core,” he said.

He lost me a little as he continued talking about the other opportunities we have in the downtown core, such as the Jasper Avenue revitalization and the Walterdale Bridge replacement, saying:

Within this context a broad-based CRL becomes a tool to support our efforts across our entire downtown plan – from Jasper Ave to the Quarters, to our warehouse district. So if we move forward tomorrow on the next steps towards a new arena and entertainment district we are moving forward with this entire vision.
 
I do want to frame what moving forward means. It means that we establish a baseline for a lead investment in a downtown arena project by the City of Edmonton, through a portion of any combination of CRL and a user-fee, both of which can be applied to building capital. 

Tying the future of downtown to the arena project’s CRL sounds risky to me. I’m not sure if that was the intent of his remarks, but that’s what it sounded like. It’ll be interesting to see what Council decides tomorrow (if anything).

2011 State of the City

Mayor Mandel next turned his attention to the economy, noting that efforts are underway to “reconsider the role of agrifood and urban agriculture in our region.” He also suggested that our local food economy may “become the seed of a broader economic effort.” He declared Edmonton’s economic future as “bright” but noted that we need to work hard to ensure we realize those opportunities.

He concluded by focusing on his key message, “that there is so much incredible opportunity here.” In particular, I really like his statement:

The best plans in the world, are really only this, until they are realized.

We actually have to do something about them (hence the second pillar of The Edmonton Champions Project: Connect, Do, Win). I think under Mayor Mandel’s leadership we have gotten better at this, but there’s still room for improvement.

2011 State of the City2011 State of the City

Throughout his speech, Mayor Mandel talked about the need for “a higher level of integration and collaboration.” He mentioned it a few times, almost more than “creativity” which seems to be his usual favorite word. I thought he did a good job of highlighting how working together can really make a difference, citing examples such as the Homeless Commission, REACH Edmonton, and the progress the Capital Region Board has made.

Given that there’s a federal election going on, I was particularly interested in Mayor Mandel’s comments on the relationship with the federal government, which we know has been strained at times. To start, he talked about the partnership with the Province and the success it has achieved:

It is based on understanding that municipal government, which is closest to the people is best to lead on key projects and that choosing an aligned path is better for our common citizen.

Then he made it clear – “it is also the message that our City must send to Ottawa through all parties and all MPs.”

All in all it was a great lunch and an uplifting address. My thanks to Robin Bobocel and the Edmonton Chamber for allowing me to join them for lunch today! You can see my photos from today here.

Recap: Startup Weekend Edmonton 2

Edmonton’s second Startup Weekend was held this past weekend at the Computing Sciences Centre on the University of Alberta campus. It was a fantastic event that saw seven teams create some really interesting things in just 54 hours. Around 50 people participated – lots of programmers, some designers, some writers, and many others. Here’s how the weekend played out.

Friday night was pitch night. Fifteen people got up and made an elevator pitch for one or more ideas, which we stuck up giant post it pages on the walls all around the room. Everyone then had a few minutes to walk around and chat with the idea people, to determine which team they wanted to work on. In the end, seven teams were formed, with sizes ranging from two people to more than a dozen. Teams did a little bit of brainstorming and preparation that night, but I don’t think any code was written.

Startup Weekend Edmonton 2

Saturday was a work day, with teams arriving and getting started around 9am. The atmosphere was exciting if a little relaxed. People lingered at lunch and dinner, taking advantage of the opportunities to chat with others. Some people stayed working past 11pm that night, while others went home to relax or out to party after a long day of hard work.

Startup Weekend Edmonton 2

Most people arrived again Sunday morning around 9:30am, focused on completing as much work as possible before demo time. It was interesting to see the shift in atmosphere from Saturday to Sunday – no time was wasted on food or breaks on Sunday. People called out tasks and things like “it’s checked in!” as they worked furiously. Getting everyone to leave the building for Original Joe’s as 6pm approached was challenging!

Startup Weekend Edmonton 2
Team Victory working right down to the wire at Original Joe’s.

There was a great turnout for the demos. Here’s what was built:

  • A flash-based gamed called Flatlander, a 2D game similar to minecraft.
  • Eartonic, an iPhone app that helps train people to learn music by ear.
  • Google Earth Sounds, a really interesting tool that enables people to add sounds to Google Earth. It’s such a great idea – with StreetView you can see what a street looks like, so why not find out what it sounds like too?
  • Swift, an attempt to make the experience of sending and finding invoices easier.
  • Another game, called Rubber Chicken Assassin. You take a photo of your friend with your iPhone, then beat them with a rubber chicken. It could then share a fun obituary on Facebook!
  • Helping Manual, a crowdsourced website to answer questions like “how do I get a social insurance number”. It’s targeted at communities such as the homeless or immigrants & newcomers, as well as the people who work with those communities. Another really great idea.
  • Team Victory, the team I was on, built LaunchWith.me. It’s part project directory and part people finder. We focused on a single question – would you work with someone again? LaunchWith.me is a way to answer that for colleagues you’ve worked with at companies, on projects, and in groups. You can check out a screencast here.

The weekend was a great opportunity to meet new people, to work with someone you might not otherwise had have the chance to, and to use and learn new technologies. I did all of those things, and also felt the sense of accomplishment that comes from working together to go from idea to working product in such a short period of time. It sounds so cliché, but it’s amazing what you can accomplish if you focus and work hard! Check out Rachelle’s recap for more.

I would like to see more even team sizes at our next Startup Weekend, tentatively scheduled for the fall, but part of the magic of the weekend is that the outcome is entirely up to attendees. Everyone had a role to play this weekend, even on the large teams, so if you have hesitated about attending because you’re not a programmer, keep that in mind for the next event!

Thanks to everyone who participated this weekend, and to everyone who came out to see the demos! You can see the rest of my photos here.

DemoCamp Edmonton 13

Sick of hibernating inside because of all the snow and cold weather? Join us on Wednesday evening for Edmonton’s next DemoCamp – lucky number 13! If you’ve never been to DemoCamp before, it’s time to stop missing out. There is no better opportunity to connect with Edmonton’s technology and startup community. Here are the details:

Date: Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Time: 6:30pm (and drinks/networking afterward)
Location: Telus Centre 150, University of Alberta (map)
Cost: Freesign up
See the event on ShareEdmonton or on Facebook.

The rules for DemoCamp are simple: ten minutes to demo real, working software, followed by a few minutes for questions. No slides allowed. You can read my recap of our last DemoCamp here (the archive of recaps is here).

If you can’t make it on Wednesday, follow along online using the #democampyeg hashtag. Stay tuned to Startup Edmonton for more technology and startup events.

See you Wednesday evening!