Mayor Don Iveson calls on Edmonton investors to get in the game

In his State of the City address (available here in PDF) yesterday at the Shaw Conference Centre, Mayor Don Iveson said there are four crucial “pipelines” that must be established in order to actively shape Edmonton’s economic future. The “export” pipeline, the “investment” pipeline, the “talent” pipeline, and the “innovation” pipeline are what we need for growth in Edmonton.

2018 State of the City Address

Most of what Mayor Iveson told the packed room was simply a rehash of ideas he and other local leaders have been sharing for years, updated to use the startup language of the day. What was different this time was the very specific audience he was speaking to. It wasn’t a speech for all Edmontonians, or for community leaders, or even for the business community. Yesterday’s speech was targeted squarely at local investors.

“As it stands right now, we don’t have enough local investment committed to our local innovation ecosystem,” Mayor Iveson said. He noted that too much local money is being sent out of the city to be invested elsewhere. “I’d like to change that dynamic.”

We need Edmonton’s investor class to get engaged

Mayor Iveson started by describing Edmonton’s investor class:

“It doesn’t always look like one might expect. It’s not always dressed in bankers’ suits. It’s not always flashy like in other cities. It’s more reserved and quiet. But it’s deeply committed to this community.”

“A lot of you are in the room today,” he said. “You’ve built your companies in dynamic and creative ways, you employ thousands of Edmontonians and you are proud to call this city home.” Mayor Iveson outlined three key reasons why the investor class should invest locally:

  1. “This is very doable,” he told them. “A lot of early-stage companies in Edmonton don’t require cash in the millions.” Instead, typical seed funding requirements are in the tends of thousands.

  2. “More local, private investment will give our innovation ecosystem more rigour.” Compared to institutional investors, private investors put “a premium on commercial viability and outcomes.”

  3. “Investing in the growth of local companies means actively shaping Edmonton’s economic future.” He appealed to their love of Edmonton. “You care about what happens to this community over the long run.”

“There must be a willingness from our community to place some bets on local innovations, on local entrepreneurs, on local talent,” Mayor Iveson said.

There are billions of dollars under management right here in Edmonton, but startup funding remains elusive. As one example, AngelList currently shows 16 investors from Edmonton with only 11 of those having actually made investments. Mayor Iveson mentioned just one seed fund by name, Panache Ventures. The situation is much better than it was back in 2006, but to say there’s room for improvement would be a huge understatement.

“I recognize I’m asking a lot of you, especially in this fragile economic climate,” he said. “But this is Edmonton’s moment, and your city needs your engagement and support more than ever.”

We need a bigger startup funnel

Noting that Startup Edmonton currently assists about 65 companies per year in their startup phase, Mayor Iveson said “we need to drastically increase the number of companies coming into the ecosystem funnel.” By this time next year, the mayor wants “to at least double the number of start-up companies that are assisted on an annual basis.” To do this, he will be asking City Council and both public and private sector parterns “to make sizeable investments” to help expand the size of the startup funnel.

This is a familiar refrain locally, especially in the tech sector. Increasing the number of startups in Edmonton is of course the whole reason for Startup Edmonton, an initiative that Mayor Iveson has long been a supporter of. Many other initiatives in recent years have focused on increasing the number of local entrepreneurs. Even in last year’s State of the City address, Mayor Iveson talked about the need “to focus on how we take local start-ups to the next level — to zero-in on adopting a scale-up mindset and build a scale-up community that helps our small enterprises grow confidently.”

This time, Mayor Iveson reiterated the importance of local investment. Edmonton needs more than just more companies, he said. “It also needs larger amounts of early-stage capital to help our entrepreneurs go from start-up to scale-up and beyond.”

Mayor Don Iveson

We need to hustle

One of the key messages Mayor Iveson focused on was the need to hustle. “Edmonton has experienced incredible external pressures before, and we have always managed to adapt and get by,” but that’s not good enough anymore, he said. Recent trips to San Francisco and Asia showed the mayor just how hard we need to work just to keep up, let alone get ahead. “From the moment you hit the ground in these places, the hustle is on.”

We have heard this before. When Brad Ferguson took over as President & CEO of EEDC in 2012, he was already sounding the alarm about complacency, calling it “our number enemy.”

This time though, the mayor got a bit more specific. “Today, we have one of the best AI research institutions in the world but we risk being outspent and out-hustled by other provinces and other cities,” he said. While there’s a role for government, “there’s also a significant role for local investors and philanthropists.”

We’re a world leader in the science of artificial intelligence, and we need to aggressively build on that.

We need a bigger talent pipeline

More talent is going to be critical for Edmonton’s growth. “We know we have work to do in terms of developing skilled talent — both locally grown, and talent that we attract from elsewhere,” Mayor Iveson said.

Again, this is not new. At the EEDC Impact Luncheon in January 2016, Brad Ferguson told the crowd that “the most important thing we can do is continue to invest in talent.” In September 2014, the Edmonton in a New Light event touched on the same ideas – be less humble, go tell the world, attract people and investment – but used different language. “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 at the time.

The mayor did announce yesterday a new partnership with EEDC and LinkedIn “to do a deep dive on Edmonton’s talent landscape” to better understand “the kinds of skills we’re missing to grow our innovation ecosystem.” Based on that, the City will craft “an Edmonton story that is compelling, honest and attractive” and that highlights “the incredible quality of life we have here.” Plenty has been written about our city’s branding efforts and missteps, so while I applaud a more data-driven approach, I find it hard to believe this time will be different.

2018 State of the City Address

We need to sell to the world

Mayor Iveson said that for sustained growth in Edmonton, we need more businesses with a focus on exports. “Companies that aren’t satisfied to stay local, but want to scale up and take their product or service to customers around the world,” he said, and cited Stantec, PCL, Yardstick, Showbie, and BioWare as examples of local companies that “opened global markets through relentless quality and ambition.”

This focus on global should be very familiar by now. Shortly after he won the 2013 election Mayor Iveson started using some new language, “innovative” and “globally competitive” in particular. And even then Mayor Iveson was talking about solving local problems and exporting the solutions to the world:

“As problem solvers, we can do our business cleaner, greener, cheaper, faster and safer – and sell those solutions to the world. This is how we will ensure that Edmonton will compete globally, and endure long into the future, no matter the price of oil.”

He mentioned the new direct flight to San Francisco as one of the ways to enable more exports. “Although we’re in a digital world, the face-to-face meeting is still a vital commodity when it comes to engaging advisors, connecting with partners and making deals,” he said. The flight will be “a tremendous enabler for more Edmonton-made businesses, with global ambitions, to reach beyond Canada.”

We need to use the City as a lab

After talking about the challenges the City faces, Mayor Iveson said “I want to take the burgeoning community of technology minds in our backyard and unleash them on those City problems.” Earlier this month he introduced a motion to have City Administration outline a draft policy or program to make this a reality. And he said he would pursue a “Startup in Residence” program to connect startups with local government.

As early as 2009 the City was trying and failing to accomplish this goal, first with the Leveraging Technical Expertise Locally program. In his 2015 State of the City address, Mayor Iveson talked about Open Lab, “a new partnership with Startup Edmonton that aims to solve municipal challenges in a more entrepreneurial way.” It sounded promising, but it has gone nowhere, and the City even took down its web page about the program.

“Let’s actively shape Edmonton’s economic future by leveraging our local tech talent to help make our established companies become as competitive and innovative as they can be,” the mayor said. He talked about his idea for an “Innovation Hub” downtown, a place to bring together “entrepreneurs, service providers, mentors, investors, talent and business experts in an environment specifically designed to encourage the creation and growth of companies.” In contrast to the manufactured office parks seen elsewhere, the mayor promised it would reflect “Edmonton’s lifestyle where innovation, entrepreneurship, the arts, creativity and vibrant urban life intersect.”

Mayor Don Iveson

Growing Edmonton’s economy is the focus

Mayor Iveson made growing the economy a key election promise last year, so it makes sense that economic development was his focus for this year’s State of the City. Earlier this month he released a report on the Mayor’s Economic Development Summit, and his remarks yesterday built on that. Again, none of the ideas are particularly new, but perhaps by better involving local investors they’ll have a much greater chance of success.

“Edmonton is ready for this,” the mayor said. “Ready to get off the bench and play at a global level.”

Recap: Mayor Iveson’s 2015 State of the City Address

Nobody fills a room like our mayor, Don Iveson. He delivered his second State of the City Address on Monday in front of an absolutely packed house at the Shaw Conference Centre. Roughly 2,200 people attended the annual event hosted by the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce. We’re in the middle of a provincial election of course, so there were plenty of candidates in attendance yesterday and more than a few people wondering what, if anything, Mayor Iveson might say. On the topic of the provincial government, he did not tread lightly.

State of the City Address 2015

“Edmonton is too important to Alberta’s future to be ignored,” he said near the end of his remarks. “That’s why I’m confident that no matter what Albertans decide on May 5, together, you along with our City Council, will not stand for any provincial government ever forgetting about Edmonton again.”

Mayor Iveson spoke for nearly 30 minutes before getting to that point. He spelled out why Edmonton matters, he talked about the opportunities that are before us, and he consistently pointed out that we could do more if only the Province would come to the table as a partner. “I want to be clear about what partnership means to me,” he said. “It means that both parties recognize their mutual interest in achieving something great together.”

Saying that there have been “some important steps” in the city charter talks thus far, Mayor Iveson made it clear that he expects the new government to continue that work. “To abandon or shortchange the charter would be to miss the chance for Edmonton to be a true partner in building this province,” he said. On homelessness, social services, early childhood education, climate change, and infrastructure, Mayor Iveson said that “Edmonton has shown we do deliver results” and challenged the Province to “give us the responsibility and resources necessary to get to the finish line.”

If there was a theme to the mayor’s remarks, it was resiliency. He opened with a compelling story about the great flood of 1915 that left an estimated 2,000 people homeless and which devastated businesses and entire industries. “Other places in similar circumstances might have let all their hope and promise be swept away,” he said. “But not Edmonton.” His message was clear. Just as our 1915 counterparts made smart decisions for the long-term, so must we.

Though the price of oil is down and there are layoffs in Alberta, Edmonton’s economic picture is much rosier he told us. “Edmonton is weathering this downturn,” he said. Citing the “unprecedented” number of cranes in the downtown, Mayor Iveson talked about the continuing confidence here in Edmonton. Last year Edmonton became the fifth largest region in Canada, “a quiet but important milestone.”

If you’re here in Edmonton, you know these things. But others around the country and around the world do not. “It’s never been more important for us to tell a clear and consistent story about Edmonton,” he said. Yes, he mentioned Make Something Edmonton, but I think Mayor Iveson really intended for his remarks on storytelling to be one of those smart decisions for the long-term. He suggested we start talking about “Edmonton Metro” which at 1.3 million people, “will be a force to be reckoned with.” This is an evolution of the “Edmonton Region” term he started using as soon as he was sworn in as mayor. Unlike “region”, the term “metro” is distinctly urban, is cohesive, and highlights the confidence of Edmonton at its core.

State of the City Address 2015

We need more than a great story for Edmonton to continue to prosper, however. “Mass transit has the potential to transform a city in a way that few other infrastructure investments can,” Mayor Iveson said. He highlighted the federal government’s new transit building fund and said it could be great for Edmonton, “but only if our Province steps up and matches this ongoing commitment.”

He also talked about the task force to end poverty and the importance of sharing Edmonton’s prosperity with all Edmontonians. While work is well underway here, the mayor called out the Province for not taking action since unveiling the Social Policy Framework back in 2013. He talked about the Year of Reconciliation and said “we can show the way for a new vision of Canadian city that lives and breathes the treaty spirit.” He spoke about climate change and said our cities “are not prepared to deal with it.” And he said that “Edmonton can play a role in changing a conversation that has, for too long, hurt the way the world sees us.”

Mayor Iveson also had some interesting things to say about cities. “We’re the agents of change in Canada and, today, we matter more than ever,” he said. “Cities are increasingly the places where the work is getting done.” He talked about how cities “are the crossroads where resources and creativity intersect” and said nowhere is that more true than right here in Edmonton.

His core messages of resiliency and working with the Province were his focus though. “If we want to build a strong and resilient Alberta,” he said, “we need a strong and resilient Edmonton.”

State of the City Address 2015

I thought Mayor Iveson carried greater confidence through his remarks this year compared to last. The highlight of his speech last year, when he looked right at Premier Redford and called for provincial funding for the LRT, was not possible this year with the uncertain political future of Alberta so he needed to be strong throughout. He looked and sounded at ease and his delivery was much better.

It’s true that most of the things he said on Monday were similar to things he said last year. The importance of LRT, the opportunity that comes with being an Aboriginal city, the need to end poverty rather than manage it, the baby steps toward a city charter, and even the need to talk about Edmonton as the heart of the region were all things he touched on in 2014’s State of the City address. But it wasn’t the same message. I think there are two key differences. First, while last year was a bit heavy on ideas and what’s coming, this year he talked about accomplishments, like the task force to end poverty which is well underway or the Open City initiative which is already have a positive impact. Second, he focused on Edmonton’s strengths this year rather than its needs. Edmonton is resilient. Edmonton is compassionate. Edmonton gets things done.

Things are uncertain at best in Alberta right now, but Edmonton is well-positioned for now and for tomorrow. I think it was wise to take advantage of the timing, to contrast Edmonton with Alberta, and to make it clear that Edmonton can play a bigger role in helping turn things around for the whole province.

You can see a few more photos from the event here.

Recap: Mayor Iveson’s 2014 State of the City Address

Mayor Don Iveson delivered his first State of the City address today in front of an absolutely packed crowd at the Shaw Conference Centre. Hosted by the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce, the State of the City luncheon attracted more than 2200 people including Councillors, MLAs, MPs, as well as business and community leaders, all eager to hear what our new mayor would say. Would he make a statement like Mayor Mandel did (by declaring “no more crap”) in his first address? Would he dump on the Province like Mayor Mandel did (lamenting the treatment of post secondary education in Edmonton) in his last address? Or would he set a completely different tone?

State of the City 2014

Though Mayor Iveson’s speech today may have lacked a lightning rod comment like the infamous “no more crap”, it had its moments. Looking right at Premier Redford, our mayor called for the Province to come to the table on funding for LRT expansion:

“Madam Premier, never has the opportunity and timing to fully build out Edmonton’s LRT network been more worthy of your government’s leadership, commitment and support. Show that you understand the needs of this city in the same way that my Council does. Show Alberta’s capital city that we are worth investing in.”

It was a powerful moment, and the audience erupted into applause after he delivered the words. Without question that part of the speech is what we’ll be talking about years from now.

Mayor Iveson opened and closed his speech recognizing the important role that indigenous peoples have played in Edmonton’s history, and the important role they’ll play in our future.

“Ladies and gentleman, a new, more confident Edmonton has emerged – building upon our rich heritage, leveraging our advantages, and – most importantly – unafraid to challenge ourselves to do even better.”

He noted that Edmonton will host the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s national event later this month. “Without recognizing our shared history and learning from it, we have no hope of making change,” he said.

Though he touched on topics like public engagement, roadway maintenance, and the City Centre Airport, Mayor Iveson focused the bulk of his time on ending poverty, the global competitiveness of the region, LRT expansion, and the big city charter.

State of the City 2014

On poverty, Mayor Iveson looks set to keep an election promise, announcing that next week Council will consider his proposal to elevate the existing Poverty Elimination Committee (of which I have been a proud member) to a task force. “Simply managing poverty is not working,” he told the crowd. He called upon everyone in attendance to think about what they could do to “unleash the next generation of entrepreneurs from unlikely circumstances.” Mayor Iveson also recognized the importance of aligning with the Province’s commitment to eliminating child poverty in Alberta.

“Poverty is complex. Its causes are multi-facted, interlinked and anything but straightforward. Many are afraid to tackle it. But I am not.”

Using language that should by now seem familiar, Mayor Iveson next turned his attention to the Edmonton region. “If we want to continue to outperform other city regions in Canada, then we must work together much more effectively – and there can be no delay,” he said. Amalgamation isn’t on the horizon but he recognized that business leaders are frustrated. “For the region to achieve results, we must work together much more effectively on economic development,” he said. Again, the mayor issued a challenge, calling on his fellow mayors to consider the role they play:

“What will you do differently…how will you think differently…are you ready to look ahead and ensure that our region’s ability to compete globally for our mutual long-term benefit is always at the forefront of our deliberations?”

He briefly discussed annexation, saying that “boundary changes are a natural part of these discussions.” Mayor Iveson said that “Edmonton’s future growth must be balanced with a healthy mix of residential and employment areas.”

State of the City 2014

Though his pointed comments to Premier Reford were the most memorable part of Mayor Iveson’s remarks on LRT, he had much more to say. “To remove all doubt,” he told the audience firmly, “this Council unanimously declared LRT expansion as its priority for new infrastructure investment, beginning with the long-awaited Valley Line from Mill Woods to downtown.”

Most of City Council has been saying optimistic things about the Province providing funding for LRT, and Monday’s throne speech certainly sounded like a step in the right direction. We won’t know for sure until tomorrow if anything has changed however, when the budget is released.

The final major topic that Mayor Iveson addressed was the Big City Charter. “Big cities fuel a large part of the province’s economic dynamism,” he said. Citing work underway with the City of Calgary that has led to a closely aligned vision for such a charter, the mayor expressed his hope that discussions with the Province will be productive.

“We have reached the point where Alberta’s big cities have outgrown the one-size-fits-all Municipal Government Act and our collective efforts are better spent focused on a big city charter. What is needed is a real partnership between Alberta’s big cities and the provincial government.”

Unfortunately, I think Mayor Iveson again missed an opportunity to talk about what a big city charter might look like. I certainly applaud the ongoing effort to negotiate a better deal for big cities, but it would be much easier to ask the hundreds of Edmontonians in the room for support if they could understand and talk about it. The big city charter still seems nebulous.

State of the City 2014

Mayor Iveson spoke today with the same confidence and measured delivery that attracted Edmontonians to him during last fall’s election. Will it go down as his most memorable speech? Likely not. But I think he said the right things, in public, to the right people. Most of the folks in the room were already Iveson supporters, so winning them over wasn’t the goal. Instead, he delivered a clear message about what’s important to Edmonton and offered insight into how we should tackle key issues.

“My responsibility, and my Council colleague’s responsibility, is to steer us, focused on an ascendant Edmonton. Great cities emerge when conditions are ripe for unprecedented cooperation, creativity and disruptive change. The cities that embrace this will thrive while cities that are content with today will lag and whither. I will not stand for that in Edmonton. And, given what we hear from Edmontonians every day, neither will you.”

You can read the full text of Mayor Iveson’s remarks here in PDF. You can read my recap of last year’s State of the City here.