Edmonton Global officially launches to attract investment to the Edmonton Metro Region

Last week Edmonton Global held a launch event outside its offices on the main floor of TELUS House.

“Edmonton Global’s goal is to attract investment and jobs to the Edmonton Metro Region by developing a regional brand, a regional database, and a strategic plan to ensure the Region takes its rightful place amongst ~300 comparable world communities.”

The event was emceed by Randy Boissonnault, MP for Edmonton Centre, who talked about the Edmonton region being a great place to work, live, and invest. The other speakers included Deron Bilous, Minister of Economic Development and Trade, Mayor Don Iveson, Edmonton Global Board Chair John Day, and Stantec’s Simon O’Byrne.

Edmonton Global Launch

Minister Deron Bilous said:

“With over 1.4 million people, Edmonton is one of the fastest growing metropolitan regions in Canada. We are proud to provide Edmonton Global $2.5 million to support projects that will attract new investment and create jobs.”

Mayor Don Iveson called Edmonton Global “a profound game changer” and said:

“This is the most important thing we need to do-pull the region together. But that would not be possible without all of you agreeing that that was what we needed to do.”

John Day said:

“We aren’t going to be successful unless we do it together. And that’s what this is all about… we have opportunities and challenges.”

Simon O’Byrne wrote following the event:

“I spoke to the audience about how places like Edmonton are ideally situated in a VUCA age (i.e. a time of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity). Markets seek certainty and stability. Edmonton is that place. It has, perhaps, the best public education system on the planet. It is a meritocracy where refugee children go to school with children that fly first class. That just doesn’t happen almost anywhere on Earth. Edmonton is one of the most inclusionary cities. 1/3 of us was born outside of Canada. Almost 40% of Edmonton are visible minorities. 1/3 of us can speak a language other than English or French. We have some of the best higher education institutions. We are also an affluent region, where ¼ households makes more than $100,000 a year. Almost 80% of households spend less than 30% of their income on housing, which is an enormous competitive advantage over many coastal cities. So why does this all matter? Because in a VUCA world, we are the model to follow. We are the safe, resilient and surest bet. We are the place you want to invest. To move to and raise a family. The place where the business climate is fertile for growth.”

I’ll give Edmonton Global itself the last word on the launch:

“A big thank you to everyone who came to our official launch event last night in Edmonton! If the attendance was any indication, there is huge support for the work we are doing to bring business here and position the Edmonton Metropolitan Region as a location of choice for global investment. We have so much to offer, including strong collaboration from regional leaders.”

A brief history of Edmonton Global

In September 2015, the mayors of nine municipalities in the region (Edmonton, Strathcona County, St. Albert, the City of Leduc, Fort Saskatchewan, Spruce Grove, Sturgeon County, Parkland County, and Leduc County) announced the Metro Mayors Alliance. Together, they represented 95% of the region’s population, 96% of its assessment base, and 80% of its land base. They contributed a total of $600,000 to conduct a study on how to make sure the Edmonton region is globally competitive. This was done at a time when the Capital Region Board (CRB), created in 2008, was still an unwieldy 24 members. It wasn’t until October 2017 that the CRB became the Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board (EMRB) and reduced its size to 13 members.

Mayors at MOU signing
Photo courtesy of the Metro Mayors Alliance

The Edmonton Metro Advisory Panel, the body formed to lead the study, released its report called Be Ready or Be Left Behind in June 2016. “We can’t just hunker down in our municipalities and milk the cows that we have,” said Don Lowry, who chaired the panel. The report warned that “as much as 87,700 additional hectares of agricultural land and 50,200 hectares of natural areas could be lost to uncooordinated development over the next 50 years” with the settlement footprint across the region growing to “as much as 273,900 hectares.” The report further warned that “taxpayers could be on the hook for an additional $8.2 billion to service that larger footprint with roads and other public infrastructure.”

The report made three cornerstone recommendations:

  1. Develop a collaborative, focused economic development strategy for the Edmonton Metro Region.
  2. Create a new inter-municipal mass transit entity in order to plan and deliver the smooth flow of people and goods between communities and across the region.
  3. Establish a mechanism with the capacity and authority to integrate and act on Metro Region land use plans and infrastructure development.

A few months earlier, in March 2016, the Capital Region Board had passed a motion to “incubate a formal regional economic development model, which would be independent of the CRB.” So when the Metro Advisory Panel’s report came out, there was a lot of overlap. The CRB pushed ahead with the new entity, adopting some aspects of the report along the way, and established an interim board of directors in February 2017, and followed that up with articles of association in April 2017. The City of Edmonton signed on to the entity the following month. Though all 24 members of the CRB were invited to join the new entity, just 15 signed on (the 13 members of what would become EMRB, plus Bon Accord and Gibbons).

The interim board phased out its work over the next month and the new organization was incorporated on June 9, 2017 as the “Edmonton Metropolitan Region Economic Development Company” now known as Edmonton Global, “the first fully regional economic development company for the Edmonton Metropolitan Region.” In September 2017, the inaugural Edmonton Global board of directors was announced, with John Day selected as board chair. They met for the first time a few days later and announced a target of July 1, 2018 to be fully operational.

In November 2017, Mayor Stuart Houston of Spruce Grove was named Chair of the Shareholders Group and Mayor Gale Katchur of Fort Saskatchewan was named Vice Chair. In April 2018, the organization announced that Malcolm Bruce would serve as CEO on a full-time basis starting July 1, 2018. He had been serving as interim CEO since the organization was formed, and was the CEO of the Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board since January 2015.

And that brings us to September 6, when the official launch event for Edmonton Global was held.

Edmonton Global Launch

What’s next?

In 2016, I wondered who was responsible for the Edmonton metro region. While there’s still a lot of overlap and jockeying for position going on, it seems that EMRB will be responsible for long-term planning while Edmonton Global will be responsible for economic development. In an interview in May 2018, Malcolm Bruce said “when we hunt as a pack on the world stage, we offer a far more compelling package to investors.” Still to come is that new regional transit authority.

Edmonton Global’s 2018-2023 Strategic Plan includes four priorities:

  1. Serve as a catalyst for investment and job attraction and retention for the Edmonton Metropolitan Region.
  2. Be the voice of the Edmonton Metropolitan Region’s economic development activities.
  3. Leverage partnerships to enhance Edmonton Global’s success.
  4. Organizational Excellence.

The organization started with a budget of $1 million 2017 which grew to $3 million this year and will expand further to $5 million in 2019. Over the next six months or so, Edmonton Global anticipates adding up to 20 staff.

The City of Edmonton contributed $330,000 to Edmonton Global in 2017, which came out of the Corporate Expenditures Management Initiatives budget. This year it contributed $668,000, which came out of the EEDC budget. Next year the City will contribute $1.346 million, but the funding source is yet to be determined. Each shareholder contributes funds based on a formula tied to its population and assessment base, which means the City of Edmonton is funding about 75% of the organization’s total budget.

The big question then is what this means for the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation (EEDC), which was responsible for nearly everything that Edmonton Global will now be tackling. A report to City Council last year promised “a broader reflection on role clarity relative to areas of investment by the City of Edmonton’s in economic development will be undertaken.” The City also said in November 2017 that “discussions are ongoing with the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation regarding the roles and responsibilities between the two organizations.”

That work is still ongoing. I asked EEDC CEO Derek Hudson about it last month just after he was named to the role. “I don’t see us stepping back in much of the work we do,” he told me. He pointed out that capacity-wise, there’s no comparison. EEDC has a budget of nearly $50 million and more than 200 employees, so it simply has a greater ability than Edmonton Global to get things done.

That said, he sees a need to work together, and told me the boards of the two organizations have a subcommittee to sort through it all. “One of the things that is critical is what’s the experience of someone coming from outside,” he said. “Ideally an investor from Asia gets a coherent experience from the time they first hear about the Edmonton metro region to when they participate in an investment,” no matter where in the region it is.

Recap: Edmonton’s Economic Impact Luncheon 2016

EEDC hosted its annual Impact Luncheon at the Shaw Conference Centre on Tuesday. Last year’s event featured Premier Jim Prentice and took place during a more positive time for Alberta’s economy – looking back now it seems like so long ago. A lot has happened over the last year, and to say the landscape in Alberta today is different would be a major understatement.

I think EEDC CEO Brad Ferguson showed great leadership during Council’s budget deliberations a couple months ago, requesting a 2% cut to EEDC’s budget. “Going into 2016, it could be one of the hardest years in Edmonton’s history,” he said at the time. No City-owned organization or branch had ever requested a decrease.


Photo by Brad Ferguson

Board Chair Barry Travers welcomed everyone to the event, and said that EEDC is “committed to doing more with less.” He reiterated that EEDC is focused on achieving $175 million in economic impact. After lunch, emcee Carrie Doll read a story about Edmonton. “Amidst a year of economic headwinds, this resilient city pushed forward once again,” she read. The story was full of feel-good statements like “this is a city of beauty, a city that’s engaged, a city that is alive 52 weeks a year.” I think many in the room felt it was inspirational, but it was perplexing to me. “It’s time to say goodbye to the Edmonton that once was, and hello to the Edmonton that now is.” What does that even mean?

In delivering his keynote address, I thought Brad did a great job of balancing the necessary realism of the current economic situation with the upbeat cheerleading that goes along with being CEO of the City’s economic development organization. He acknowledged that the next 2-3 years are going to be difficult for everyone, then continued:

“But in three years, if we are united and do this properly, this city and province will emerge even stronger than it’s been in the past, an economic powerhouse for our country, an incredible place for the next generation of Albertans to be born into, and a place where everyone will again want to come in search of an abundance of opportunity.”

Brad started globally and worked his way to the local context. “The world around us has lost its compass,” Brad said, explaining that the current period of time is unique because of high debt levels, the fast pace of technological change, and geopolitical tensions. He noted that “using debt to stimulate growth is incredibly addictive for politicians” but that it is citizens who end up paying the price. Global growth has stalled, he said, and that means “demand for commodities grinds to a halt.” He touched on oil, saying that the supply at the moment seems endless. And he talked about “an incredible time of volatility and anxiety, all around the world.”

Next Brad turned his attention to Canada. Though he again scolded politicians for being addicted to debt, he talked about how personal debt has escalated in recent years, despite the fact that middle income wages “have been relatively stagnant since 1995.” This has led to the “Age of Anxiety” as Brad called it, in which “people and families are doing everything possible and are still unable to make ends meet.”

Although he criticized some of the Province’s recent decisions, including “a delayed royalty review and a substantial amount of new provincial debt and new interest payments”, Brad said he wasn’t blaming Rachel Notley or her government. “They inherited 10 years of drunken-sailor euphoria that came after the Klein years,” he said, “which was the last time we made hard decisions about size of government, debt repayment and government program spending.”

More importantly, Brad placed blame on himself and everyone in the room, “We…didn’t do our job over the past 10 years of euphoria and we didn’t hold our government to account.” Regardless of who’s in power, Albertans need to question their political leaders and get more involved. But he didn’t let the current government completely off the hook. “It doesn’t matter what political ideology was campaigned on, our government has a responsibility to steward this province forward for the best interest of Albertans and future Albertans.”


Photo by Carrie Doll

Last year, Brad highlighted ten themes “that would strengthen our economy over the long term.” This year, he highlighted five calls to action:

  1. Entrepreneurship
  2. Export & Trade
  3. Energy Innovation
  4. Tourism, Conferences, and Major Events
  5. Leadership in Public Service

On entrepreneurship, Brad said “the most important thing we can do is continue to invest in talent.” He said the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Edmonton is “working exceptionally well” but noted that health innovation, agrifood, and a shared maker space are all areas that we could improve upon.

“Export & Trade are essential parts of the wealth creation formula,” Brad said. He encouraged local business leaders to speak up about the TPP, saying “we generate about $50 billion per year from TPP countries.” He also talked about pipelines and logistics and said “everyone has a role in making these opportunities come to life.”

“Our energy future is all about innovation,” Brad said, highlighting five challenges that we should be focusing on: CO2-Free Emissions, Enhanced Oil Recovery, Carbon Capture & Storage, Clean Coal, Safest Pipelines in the World. He said it doesn’t make sense to shut down or phase out one of our competitive strengths in exchange for “making green infrastructure investments in which we have no competitive advantage.”

Though he noted that EEDC has been working with Northlands to “end the 30-year old discussion of how we can best market the city under one banner,” most of what Brad said about major events and tourism was a repeat of last year. “Major events create an energy, rhythm and pulse in a city” he said, repeating last year’s message nearly word-for-word. It seems to be that civic leaders love to talk about Edmonton’s major events strategy, yet I have never seen one articulated.

“In this country we have three levels of government with the risk of introducing a fourth at the regional level,” he said. I assume he’s talking about regional government, and he argued effectively against it. “We can barely afford the multi-tiered system that we have, and we certainly cannot afford it becoming more engorged.” He talked about government becoming more efficient and less bureaucratic.

My favorite part of his remarks came when Brad talked about the complicated system of economic development and innovation organizations, saying “the level of duplication and inefficiencies is astonishing, with no overall leadership, coordination in planning or true accountability for results.” He called for an overhaul of the system, and extended an invitation to work with the other organizations to “reshape the economic development and innovation system to what is needed for our future, and leave behind the ineffective systems and structures of our past.” I hope Brad’s colleagues take him up on the offer.

Brad finished with this: “I believe this province will regain its potential, and out of this extended period of darkness, better days will come.”

Overall I think he delivered a thoughtful speech. With clear calls to action, some thought-provoking statements, and a personal touch, I think Brad had a big impact on everyone who listened. Let’s hope that other civic leaders follow his lead and do their part to help Edmonton emerge stronger from the downturn that is ahead.

TransEd selected for the Valley Line LRT, interVivos turns 9, changes at Startup Edmonton

I’m trying something new, where I share some thoughts on a few topical items in one post. Less than I’d write in a full post on each, but more than I’d include in Edmonton Notes. I’ll organize them here. Have feedback? Let me know!

TransEd Partners selected as Valley Line LRT partner

Today the City of Edmonton announced that TransEd Partners has been selected “to design, build, operate, maintain and finance stage one of the Valley Line LRT.” TransEd is a consortium comprised of: Fengate Capital Management, Bechtel, Ellis-Don, and Bombardier. Additionally, TransDev, ARUP, and IBI Group are described as “other key team members.” TransEd was selected after an 18 month procurement process “that saw comprehensive proposals from three international teams.”

Acting City Manager Linda Cochrane said the City, the LRT Governance Board, and the fairness monitor were all “quite comfortable” with the bids that were received, but felt the TransEd bid offered the best value for taxpayers. She repeated what Mayor Iveson and other City officials have highlighted in recent months, which is that the P3 model “by its nature transfers risk” to the partner. It’s pretty clear everyone is nervous because of what happened with the Metro Line and Thales. I have no doubt the issues that were encountered with the Metro Line will not be repeated with the Valley Line. But the reality of a $1.8 billion project, the single largest infrastructure project in Edmonton, is that something else will go wrong. What’s important is how the City will handle it.

And that’s the other key thing that Linda talked about today – communication. She noted that the City is still responsible for the project and is the entity to complain to if and when things go wrong. And she acknowledged that the City has room to improve when it comes to communication. But they are committed to being “as transparent as possible” throughout the entire project.

The next step is to finalize the contract with TransEd, which will involve a deeper dive into all of the financials. That is slated to be complete by February 2016 and if all goes well, construction will begin in the spring. The new 13-km line from Mill Woods to Downtown would be complete in 2020, with service starting by the end of that year.

interVivos turns 9

Last night I had the pleasure of serving as emcee for interVivos’ latest mentorship networking event. It’s the second time I have hosted the event, so I was thrilled to be asked back!

“The mentorship program helps achieve the mandate of interVivos by “bringing together young professionals and students with Edmonton’s business, political and community leaders to develop the relationships and the skills required by young people to assume positions of positive leadership within our community”.”

The mentorship program began in 2012 and has been running twice a year ever since. I’ve had the opportunity to be a mentor in the past as well, and I had a very positive experience. The way it works is interVivos brings together sixteen proteges and sixteen mentors, and they meet in a speed networking format. Proteges get four minutes to meet each mentor, and then at the end of the evening they all rank their top five preferred matches. interVivos makes the matches within a few weeks, and then each protege and mentor pairing is responsible for communicating at least three times over six months. You get out of it what you put into it, but the relationships that are formed can be quite meaningful.

interVivos Fall Mentorship Networking
Rene Ziorio & Zohreh Saher

interVivos launched back in November 2006 making it nine years old this month, which is quite an achievement! Zohreh and the team should be very proud of what they’ve built. In case you were wondering, interVivos is a Latin word that means “from one person to another”. You can follow interVivos on Facebook and on Twitter.

Changes at Startup Edmonton

The secret is out now: Ken Bautista resigned last month from Startup Edmonton and EEDC. He wrote:

“After eighteen months since our acquisition, I came to realize that it was the right time to leave Startup Edmonton in a place where it could continue to be a platform to grow our community beyond my leadership.”

There’s still a great team at Startup Edmonton, including co-founder Cam Linke and COO Tiffany Linke-Boyko, but Ken’s resignation is a big loss for EEDC. The energy, creativity, and vision he brought to the organization will surely be missed.

Frankly this news leaves me wondering about EEDC’s ongoing culture change. Ken is not the kind of person you want to lose, and if he was frustrated by bureaucracy or other internal impediments then that’s concerning. I’m sure we’ll learn more about how things are going at EEDC during the budget process over the next couple weeks (and potentially at the IMPACT Luncheon in January).

As for Ken, I have no doubt he’ll be positively impacting Edmonton with his next project (whatever that might be) in no time.

Recap: Ignite Edmonton 2015

A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend Ignite Edmonton, courtesy of EEDC. This was the first year for Ignite, though it’s fair to say the event was the latest iteration of an idea that EEDC has been pursuing for a few years now. How do you host an event to promote creativity and entrepreneurial thinking in a more interesting and engaging way than the typical conference?

Ignite Edmonton Festival

E-Town Festival

Ignite’s roots go back to September 2013, when the first E-Town Festival took place here in Edmonton (which I previewed here). E-Town was “an intensive two-day festival of ideas for entrepreneurial-minded people who get excited by innovation, change and disrupting common thought.” It was also a mishmash of workshops, plenaries with big-name speakers like Chris Hadfield and Guy Kawasaki, a Food Truck Fest, a concert featuring the Barenaked Ladies, and more. The event took place throughout the Shaw Conference Centre, with the big sessions being hosted in Hall D.

I completely appreciated the opportunity to hear from Chris Hadfield, and I love food trucks more than most, but there was an awful lot going on over those two days. You have to admire the bold vision of the folks at EEDC who organized it though. They wanted to make a statement, and they did.

E-Town

E-Town returned in 2014 for another two-day event that featured speakers like Hayley Wickenheiser, Bob Nicholson, and Raine Maida. It kept the Food Truck Fest, and also had a concert featuring Maida and his wife Chantal Kreviazuk. The event was promoted like this:

“E-Town Festival feeds the mind and heart of people who get excited by innovation, creativity and disrupting common thought. You’ll be immersed in new ideas from thought-provoking speakers, contribute to interactive breakout sessions, connect to other bright minds and be entertained by great artists. You’ll leave inspired, re-energized, smarter and ready to take bold action.”

Again there was a desire to build a “high-involvement, high-energy event” that “wasn’t your typical conference.” But I know more than a handful of people who looked at either the agenda or the price or both and felt it was safe to pass on the event. I think both iterations of E-Town were reasonably successful, but people attending a concert is not the same thing as attendees taking something useful back to their work. I wonder if the right people were in the room.

There were plans for another E-Town, as the website stated:

“Looking to the future, we envision a multi-day, multi-venue festival experience that attracts attendees from western Canada and north-western United States.”

That didn’t come to pass, of course (at least not yet). After having attended Ignite, I think that’s probably a good thing, because I like the new direction they’ve taken.

Break the mold

To me the idea that EEDC has been pursuing first with E-Town and now with Ignite is this: creative, entrepreneurial thinking can help startups, big companies, and everyone in-between, but it doesn’t have to come from the usual suspects or in typical business-conference-fashion.

I think that’s why there was such an interest in previous years to incorporate musicians, artists, food trucks, and other not-usually-seen-at-business-conference-type folks into the event. They all have useful, interesting, and entertaining things to say, things that those of us in business (whether at startups or big companies) can benefit from hearing.

Ignite stayed true to that idea, I think, but with a course correction. Instead of just getting all those folks together in the room and hoping that the cross-pollination would happen, Ignite took a much more intimate and curated approach.

Ignite Edmonton

Ignite was organized by a big team of EEDC staff and volunteers, led by Ken Bautista, Director of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at EEDC. There’s a certain expectation of polish that comes with an event organized by Ken (he’s set the bar high with TEDx, Startup Edmonton, and other events). He delivered once again with Ignite. The website, name badges, program, swag bags, venue, and everything else were attractive, high quality, and cohesive.

This year’s event took place on the Assembly Level in Halls A and B, with coffee, lunch, and social space outside in the common area. That meant everyone was in more or less the same space, which was better for networking and running into people.

Inside the two halls is where the main action took place. I have to completely agree with Neetu’s assessment of the venue:

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The six pavilions – Cocoon, Interlock, Orb, Riverview, String, Transposed Formation – were all designed by local designers through a special design competition setup just for Ignite. Each of the workshop sessions took place in one of the pavilions, which I think it’s fair to say achieved the desired effect of creating “a completely immersive, incredibly inspiring experience.” Everyone was snapping photos and commenting on them! Because of the way the room was setup there was probably more noise bleed than the organizers had hoped for, but I think most people were willing to forgive the excess noise because of the uniqueness/novelty of the pavilion designs.

Instead of bringing in food trucks as was done for E-Town, attendees of Ignite were treated to food created by the Shaw Conference Centre culinary team, led by Executive Chef Simon Smotkowicz. And why not? He’s one of our city’s most accomplished chefs! I thought the lunch options were great, and went back for more than a couple of the tasty sandwiches.

For scheduling, Ignite used Sched. Attendees could login ahead of time and choose their sessions, which produced a completely customized agenda for the two days. Each day started with a couple of main stage talks, which were about 30 minutes in length. The workshop sessions were perhaps a touch long at 90 minutes, but thankfully there was a lot of social time built into the agenda, even on top of lunch and drinks.

On the final afternoon attendees had the opportunity to attend a “studio session” which offered an introduction to “the inner-workings of some of Downtown Edmonton’s most creative offices and workspaces.” Startup Edmonton, Ice District HQ, DDB, and TELUS all hosted field-trips.

Session Highlights

You can see all of the speakers and sessions here.

Just like Nathan, I found the Square presentation by Steve McPhee to be thought-provoking. Be sure to check out his post for more highlights! In terms of main stage sessions, I also really enjoyed both Nir Eyal‘s talk on building habit-forming products (looking forward to reading his book Hooked) and Ted Graham‘s talk on what he learned about innovation by driving for Uber. Their presentation styles were completely different, but both were able to use their limited time to get across some interesting ideas.

My favorite session was a workshop called “Building a Team Culture with Respectful Leadership”. It was led by FC Edmonton Head Coach Colin Miller.

“Colin Miller specializes in the art of respectful leadership. As a coach and former professional athlete, Colin has faced every challenge in the world of teams from both sides of the white line.”

“His leadership style is the crux of a unique approach to team-building which stresses respect and professionalism as the building blocks in pursuit of excellence. Any company can use the respectful leadership model to elevate their team – no matter their size or budget.”

In addition to being an engaging and sometimes funny speaker, I really enjoyed Colin’s approach. He focused on what he knows best and is passionate about, which is football. The insights he shared could of course be applied to business, but he didn’t have to spell it out. That was an exercise left to the reader, and I think made for a bigger impact.

Ignite Edmonton Festival

For Colin, respectful leadership is “in-depth knowledge of your field” and “treating people correctly.” He shared a few key lessons that he has gleaned through his years of working with football players, including:

  • Give time for uninterrupted work
  • Surround your team with pros
  • Expect your team’s respect

I don’t think anything he said was revolutionary, but the way he framed his key points and supported them with examples from his experience in coaching was really valuable. Most importantly, I felt I could immediately take what he said and try to apply it to my own teams. I think that’s what I liked best about Ignite – most of the information seemed actionable.

A solid platform

I understand that through Ignite’s Community Fellows Program, sponsored by nine different organizations focused on entrepreneurs and business, some people in the audience had their attendance paid for (like me). That probably helped the event seem fuller than it would otherwise have been, because I doubt the $449+ tickets sold out (though the content, food, and swag bags make it seem like a pretty good value). My hunch is that EEDC didn’t make any money on Ignite. But I hope that’s not the only measure of success they consider.

Ignite Edmonton Festival

Whereas E-Town seemed targeted to everyone with concerts and food trucks, I think Ignite’s target audience (“teams of entrepreneurs, creatives, builders and change makers”) was narrower and the event was more successful as a result. Instead of talking about the spectacle, attendees were talking about the content. It’s anecdotal, but my conversations with people at the event and most of the comments I saw on Twitter suggest to me that Ignite was not just a fun event that attendees will forget. It was something they got value out of and will take back to work.

I don’t know if Ignite will become an annual thing, but I think if it returns in 2016 using a similar approach to this year, EEDC will have a successful event on its hands.

What’s next?

Ignite 2016, hopefully! But before that, there are a number of other entrepreneurship-focused events coming up:

Thanks to EEDC for the opportunity to attend Ignite. See you at Edmonton Startup Week!

Recap: Edmonton’s Economic Impact Luncheon 2015

“Never waste a good crisis,” EEDC President & CEO Brad Ferguson told the hundreds of Edmonton business leaders gathered today at the Shaw Conference Centre for EEDC’s annual Impact luncheon. He channeled local business pioneer Frank Spinelli and said “it’s what you do in the good times that determines how well you perform in the bad times.” He argued that Edmonton and EEDC in particular have done a lot of great things over the last two years when times were good and that means the year ahead won’t be as bad as many anticipate.

A short while later, Premier Jim Prentice took to the stage and disagreed. “It is what we are going to do in the bad times that will determine how successful we’re going to be in the good times,” he said. The Premier talked about the need to change both the income and expense side of the equation, and cautioned that all Albertans will have a role to play in making it through a difficult time.

So which is it? Well, it’s probably a little bit of both. The feeling I was left with after today’s luncheon is that Edmonton has been doing the right things and will weather the coming storm better than the province as a whole.

impact 2015

Mayor Don Iveson brought greetings to start the event and offered his two cents on the economic situation, saying “there’s no reason to panic.” He said the Edmonton economy is becoming more resilient as it becomes more diverse and that “our city’s entrepreneurial spirit has never been stronger.”

The mayor also took the opportunity to call upon the Province to keep Edmonton in mind as it tries to address a shortfall in revenue. “City building, I believe, is Province building,” he said. Later, Premier Jim Prentice referred to the comment and said, “I couldn’t agree more with that.”

Before the keynote began, EEDC showed their Build It Here video, highlighting the fact that it can be customized for businesses to use in their own materials.

Keynote

Brad Ferguson delivered the keynote address today, which you can read online. He began by talking about 2014, calling it “a great year”. There was a lot of euphoria in 2013 and throughout most of last year, so EEDC asked itself a key question:

“What should an economic development authority do when it is not in the job creation business? What should we do in the good times that will help us when the economic cycle turns?”

And with that in mind, the organization focused on ten themes throughout 2014 “that would strengthen our economy over the long term.”

  1. Direct Flights
  2. External Marketing
  3. Downtown Density
  4. Entrepreneurial Ecosystem
  5. Foreign Investment
  6. Event Attraction
  7. Regional Collaboration
  8. Unified Voice
  9. National Positioning
  10. Building the team at EEDC

Brad talked about the way EIA and EEDC are working together so effectively now, which resulted in the KLM flight. He discussed the new approach to tourism and marketing. He mentioned the big announcements that were made recently and said “more than anything else, 2014 will be remembered as the year of downtown.” He talked about the importance of event attraction, saying that big events “create a rhythm and a pulse and an energy that builds excitement and confidence.” He praised the mayor’s leadership in the region and on speaking with a unified voice. And he referenced the many newspaper and magazine articles that have been popping up across the country talking about Edmonton’s transformation.

Brad had a lot of praise for his colleagues. “I am extremely proud of the team we have built at EEDC.” He said the organization has reduced the portion of its operating budget that comes from the City, from 43% when Brad took over to 38% today. Brad said they’re on track to reduce that even further to 33% by 2017.

He then talked about oil prices and what they mean for the economy. If you want to understand the roller coaster, read this passage:

“If we look back over the last 7 years: In 2006-2007 this place was on fire, the world economy was expanding, oil prices were high, and everything was rocking. Until in March 2007 Bear Stearns collapsed and in September of that same year Lehman Brothers collapsed, the biggest financial collapse in recent history. The price of oil went from $140 to $40 (a $100 dollar drop) in six months than then settling around $58 which created a population boom scenario in Alberta and in Edmonton starting in 2010, 2011 and 2012 when the WCS (Western Crude Select) pricing traded at a significant discount, now known as the Bitumen Bubble, followed by 2013-2014 where the price rose again to $95-$100 range while the world started to rebound, and then half way through 2014 the price started to dramatically drop as the global economy started to pick up, which has us moving from a budget crunch which can be addressed into a competitiveness crunch that is more structural and tends to last for quite some time.”

He did not mince words, saying “our revenue model at the provincial level continues to fail us.” Brad said he sympathized with the Premier though, as he inherited this problem. Still, he cautioned that unless we make changes now, we’ll be experiencing the same revenue volatility in the 2020s, 2030s, and 2040s. “It’s time to be humble being from Alberta,” Brad said. “And it is time to have a serious conversation about our financial picture and to make incremental changes to our tax structure.”

Brad predicted that in Edmonton, the year ahead will be better than most people are predicting. He said we’ll outperform Calgary, and while the Province’s budget will capture the headlines, “there are many positives in front of us that cannot be forgotten.”

He urged attendees to do more than hope for a return to $100 oil prices. “We’re planning for a very competitive world and we need to operate with more intention than ever before.”

Q&A with Premier Prentice

After the keynote, Premier Jim Prentice joined Brad on stage for a fireside chat, sans fire. “This is a world class city, with world class leadership,” he said. He disagreed with Brad about the good times/bad times point-of-view, then said that “this year will be about leadership and confidence.” Premier Prentice predicted that 2015 will be a challenging year, but also a transformational one.

The Conference Board of Canada has predicted that Alberta will experience a recession in 2015, but Premier Prentice disagrees. “We are tough, we are resilient, we are entrepreneurial, we have the capacity to get through this, and we will get through this.”

At times the Premier seemed to be doing exactly what Brad cautioned against – hoping for a return to $100 oil. “The best solution for low oil prices is low oil prices, they will come back,” he said at one point. At other times, he was very clear that action was necessary. “People have had enough of the roller coaster,” he said. He has struck a new budget committee and confirmed that “everything is on the table.”

The Premier was also very honest about the challenges faced by the Province. “We have not done a good job with our public finances,” he said. “We have been living beyond our means.” He said that needs to change, and that “we are living on resource revenue that properly belongs to our children and our grandchildren.” He said the amount we spend in Alberta on health care “is not sustainable” and added that “we’re going to have to contain expenditures as we move forward.”

Premier Prentice did not shy away from the topic of taxation, either. Asked if the market is ready for a conversation about it, the Premier replied, “I certainly hope so.” He suggested that most Albertans probably don’t support the idea of a provincial sales tax, but did say that now is the time to discuss it. “We welcome the views of all Albertans on taxation,” he said. “Now is the time to speak up about this.”

Perhaps thinking ahead to the budget, Premier Prentice talked about what to expect. “First and foremost we need a fiscal plan than Albertans can look at and have certainty,” he said. And knowing that the roller coaster cannot continue, “it has to be a ten year plan.” He said that oil “may always be the family business” but said that diversification is important.

Given the opportunity to offer some closing thoughts, Premier Prentice said “you don’t win a bigger lottery than to be an Albertan.” He ended on an optimistic, hopeful note. “This is a remarkable province and we have a remarkable future.”

Extra Notes

EEDC Board Chair Barry Travers brought greetings on behalf of the board of directors, and introduced all of his colleagues. The event was hosted by Grant Ainsley and featured a giant Twitter wall powered by Freeman Audio Visual and SAM that received rave reviews from attendees. Everyone received a copy of “Navigating Your Economic Future in Edmonton: A Guide for Business Leaders”. The entire event was livestreamed by the Edmonton Journal, which you can watch here.

For additional context on this story, check out the following posts:

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.

What’s next for Make Something Edmonton?

A few weeks ago I attended a discussion hosted by Make Something Edmonton (MSE) at Startup Edmonton. For a few hours on a particularly cold Saturday morning, a handful of former MSE volunteers shared their thoughts on the past year, offering insight into what worked and what didn’t. It was an opportunity to reflect on how MSE has evolved over the last year, and to consider where it should go next. There hadn’t been much communication with volunteers since the final report was produced in September, so many of us were unsure of MSE’s status. It turns out that many things were happening behind the scenes!

Make Something Edmonton Launch Party

Funding Make Something Edmonton

The final report of the City Image & Reputation Task Force was presented to Executive Committee on September 9, 2013. The recommendation that was passed was for EEDC and the task force to work together to:

“operationalize the Make Something Edmonton Initiative, and bring back recommendations to continue implementation of the Make Something Edmonton Initiative, including setting up an agency or other entity, and with a service package developed and funding to be requested for allocation in the 2014 budget.”

In December, a plan for funding MSE was presented to City Council. That plan suggested the following approach:

  • An Executive Director and Operating Budget would be provided through EEDC.
  • A Make Something Edmonton Activation Board would be established to provide strategic direction and implementation support.
  • The Activation Board would be co-chaired by two community leaders, jointly approved by the City Manager and the CEO of EEDC, who would serve a two-year term.
  • A Leadership Group comprised of the City’s Chief Communications Officer, the CEO of EEDC, and the Co-Chairs, would be established.

It also outlined the allotment of a $2 million budget:

  • $500,000 for the City of Edmonton to adopt the MSE brand platform in its marketing & communications
  • $975,000 for MSE through EEDC to fund operations & implementation
  • $525,000 for EEDC to execute targeted external marketing campaigns

That might seem like a large amount, but it pales in comparison to what has been spent on branding in the past.

An Initiative of EEDC

As a result of that plan, MSE now calls EEDC home:

“As of January 1, 2014, Edmonton Economic Development is proud to steward the Make Something Edmonton Initiative, continuing this grassroots organization’s mandate to make Edmonton a hub for building, creating, changing, for making something. An advisory board will soon be established to ensure connectivity with the vibrant creative and entrepreneurial communities and to keep the spirit of the program alive.”

The idea is for MSE to be part of EEDC’s “coordinated incubator strategy”. That’s basically a fancy way of saying that EEDC provides the necessary supports for organizations like TEC Edmonton, Startup Edmonton, and now MSE so that they can focus on their core objectives.

I asked EEDC’s VP of Marketing & Communications Kevin Weidlich about where he sees MSE fitting in. “I think EEDC is responsible for developing the Edmonton brand,” he said, “but we’re not the only ones.” Kevin was excited about the opportunity for MSE to continue on as a community-led initiative, supported by EEDC, and he sees volunteers as critical advocates for the adoption of the MSE brand in other organizations.

New Co-Chairs

MSE’s new co-chairs are John Mahon, former Executive Director of the Edmonton Arts Council, and Tegan Martin-Drysdale, former Co-Chair of Edmonton Next Gen. They take over from outgoing co-chairs Chris LaBossiere and Amy Shostak. Though her title still reads “interim”, Mary Sturgeon has moved to EEDC to remain as MSE’s Executive Director.

Both John and Tegan spoke eloquently at the event a few weeks ago, sharing some thoughts on how MSE fits into the bigger picture. Both stressed the importance of gathering feedback, and listened intently as everyone in attendance shared their viewpoints on what MSE should be focusing on next. They heard opinions on such things as whether to narrow the focus or whether to go after a broad range of Edmontonians, on whether a physical office was important or not, on how they should be engaging volunteers, and on how other local organizations could be encouraged to adopt the brand.

The big task ahead for John & Tegan is to establish the advisory or activation board, and to determine what structure the organization should take. It’s critical that they establish a plan for the next two years, in conjunction with Mary, so that they can bring the right people on board. I know they’re up to the task.

Anecdotes & Projects

While the MSE website remains operational, it hasn’t been updated as frequently as originally intended. One new feature called Anecdotes was added recently, however. With titles like “make something active” for the Edmonton Ski Club and “make something solid” for Waiward Steel, the stories are meant to both educate and inspire:

“Icons of Edmonton are big, small, strong, strange, strangely profitable, and increasingly global. There are thousands of examples of ideas that started here and grew into extraordinary events, social organizations, businesses, festivals, and community projects. Browse through these profiles and read about Edmontonians, their ideas, and what they’ve created. We’re building an inventory. If you have an example of Edmonton-ness in mind, get in touch and we’ll include it.”

There are nearly 20 anecdotes up on the website so far, and I expect we’ll see many more added in the weeks ahead. You may have seen some billboards around town highlighting some of these stories.

Projects continue to be added, and MSE actively promotes them via its Twitter and Facebook pages. At the moment there isn’t much incentive for a project creator to go back on to the website to update its progress, so that’s one area that the website’s functionality could be improved. I understand there was a laundry list of other improvements identified that have yet to come to fruition too.

Make Something Edmonton Launch 2013

Onward!

I was concerned last summer about where MSE would land, so I’m really happy that Make Something Edmonton will continue on as an initiative of EEDC. I think the direction that EEDC is headed is exciting, and I’m sure that MSE will benefit from the new energy and talent they have there. I’m also very happy to see John & Tegan step forward as MSE’s new co-chairs. Both have already given so much to Edmonton, and I know they will be great leaders for the initiative.

Clearly there’s a lot of work still to be done. MSE could reach more people, the essence of the brand could be adopted by more organizations, and project initiators and volunteers could be better and further engaged. I’m optimistic that with its future now certain, MSE can achieve all of that.

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.

Make Something Edmonton moves forward with 8 recommendations

Today the Mayor’s Task Force on Image and Reputation submitted its final report to Executive Committee. The task force is better known by its adopted name, Make Something Edmonton. In summarizing the work that has been done thus far and recommending next steps, the report draws the task force to a close and marks the start of Make Something Edmonton as a more official thing. Exactly what that thing is however, must still be determined.

Here are the recommendations outlined in the report (which you can download here):

  1. Adopt Edmonton’s Brand
  2. Open the Make Something Edmonton Office
  3. Preserve and Maintain the Citizen-Driven Focus
  4. Recognize and Reward Excellence: The Builders Prize
  5. Promote a “Make Something” Culture
  6. Appoint a Make Something Edmonton “Champion”
  7. Implement an Image and Reputation Strategy
  8. Create and Activate Ambassador & Mentor Networks

Some of these recommendations are obvious while others are a little more interesting.

The first recommendation would see “Make Something Edmonton” become Edmonton’s “brand platform”, the foundation for an image and reputation strategy. This doesn’t necessarily mean that “Make Something Edmonton” replaces “City of Champions” as some have suggested, but it does assert that the story behind MSE is our brand.

The second recommendation calls for the creation of an organization similar in structure to the Edmonton Arts Council, perhaps operating under the umbrella of EEDC. The purpose of the office would be “to develop the words, the tools, and the expertise” to help existing organizations and Edmontonians in general to launch new businesses, promote events and initiatives, and attract others to our city. It would guide the brand. The third recommendation is obvious and somewhat related, calling for an advisory council with representatives from a broad range of sectors.

The fourth recommendation is to create The Builders Prize, an annual cash prize to recognize MSE projects. “$30,000 will be awarded to one outstanding and completed Make Something Edmonton project. The recipient of the $30,000 prize will then award four $5,000 Catalyst Prizes to other Make Something Edmonton projects in progress.” I love the twist there – the grand prize winner must award the smaller prizes.

The fifth recommendation is again fairly obvious, and also probably the most difficult to action. Some suggestions include offering a MSE award as part of the Awards of Excellence, and embedding “What are you making? How can we help?” on City of Edmonton business cards.

I’m perhaps most excited to see the sixth recommendation, which calls for a “champion” to operate out of the City Manager’s office. This person’s job would be something like an ombudsperson for MSE. They would help navigate City of Edmonton bylaws and rules, and would work to streamline things for future makers. City Manager Simon Farbrother has endorsed this idea.

The seventh recommendation is really for the organization created out of recommendation #2 and its to implement a strategy and communications plan. As a result of this you should see the brand story and image appear throughout communications from all of Edmonton’s prominent organizations, businesses and institutions.

The final recommendation is really something the task force has already been doing. The idea is to create “an informal training program” to go out and tell the MSE story to anyone who will listen. An addition would be the mentor network, made up of people who have already made and built things in Edmonton, to help new makers get their own ideas off the ground.

The report concludes with:

This is only the beginning of Make Something Edmonton. The first phase of our work was to discover the Edmonton Story and to activate it with early adopters. Now we begin to actively find – to use marketing parlance – the “early majority.”

It also promised a new website and advertising campaign to launch this fall.

I feel like the report and recommendations address many of the concerns I raised in my post from July. Executive Committee this morning decided to request that a funding package be put forward as part of the budget in order to move these recommendations forward. I think this is an initiative that deserves ongoing support from the City of Edmonton, even if it ultimately lives with EEDC or elsewhere, and I am optimistic that Council feels the same way.

Kudos to everyone involved with Make Something Edmonton on progressing to this point!