Hicks on Biz: Edmonton's downtown has bright future BY GRAHAM HICKS, EDMONTON SUN FIRST POSTED: FRIDAY, DECEMBER 26, 2014
What a great year it has been for Edmonton and Northern Alberta commerce!
I’d wager one of the best ever.
What 2015 brings may be another story, but today, let’s look backward and give thanks.
The local economy was just about perfect - everybody was busy, the order books were filled, the machine shops were humming. The economy was hot, but not white-hot.
Calgary Trail wasn’t filled with yellow signboards begging for workers. Most employers would say there’s still a skilled labour shortage, but it’s manageable.
The downtown core had its best year since the halcyon days of the late ‘70s.
Actually better. This mini-boom, as the bumper stickers once promised, is not being pissed away.
There were no new office towers in Edmonton from 1990 to 2011 - now three are under construction, plus at least a dozen spanking new condo towers led by the 36-story The Pearl.
Say what you will about how Daryl Katz runs his hockey team, but no other individual or company has ever invested so much, in such a short time, into the Edmonton economy.
Katz is delivering on all his promises as the steel goes up for the downtown arena. The foundations are being laid for the new civic office tower, the 62-floor Stantec building and the 50-floor swanky new Delta hotel/condo tower.
Yes, they are shrewd business investments. Yes, Katz should continue to build his fortune.
But he took the risk! He’s the entrepreneur who persuaded the money-lenders to put their faith in Edmonton’s future. Should the Alberta economy come unravelled, he’ll be the guy on the hook.
In 2014, it all came together for Edmonton - the result of a decade of regaining confidence in ourselves, building a strong city identity, growing existing companies and adding new ones to the ever growing pile.
It’s often been said that Edmonton’s great economic strength is very different to Calgary’s. Theirs is a small corporate elite of mega-energy oil companies and head offices like CP Rail. Ours is of a few big companies, then thousands of small-to-medium-sized enterprises with 10 to 100 employees. Our economy, of course, is underpinned by the demand for goods and services from the conventional oil patch and the oilsands.
We’ve had strong political leadership that earned the confidence of the business community since Steve Mandel was first elected in 2004.
This was the year the kids (OK, the well-educated under-35s) took back Edmonton. We’re not going anywhere, they said. We grew up in Edmonton, we love our home, we’re staying to build our lives, our families, our businesses and our careers. They elected one of their own as mayor. Welcome to the new Edmonton!
The kids have been moving in droves to the downtown’s new condo towers, putting hefty deposits down for condos in towers yet to be built. Their migration downtown has created dozens of new, quality restaurants, bistros and lounges.
It’s not just downtown. All of Edmonton, all of Metropolitan Edmonton, has had a damn fine business year.
You could say “finally” and be quite right - but the urban and regional road/bridge infrastructure is just about caught up and is now in good shape. Maybe one day the IT guys will figure out how to integrate old and new switching systems, so the LRT leg from Churchill Station to NAIT will become operational.
Next year is a little scary. Everybody forgot - with years of $100 a barrel oil - that energy prices are cyclical, and here we are, again, at $57 a barrel.
But this column is about 2014, and, you know, 2015 is still going to be pretty good!
Merry Christmas - may your margins be healthy, your dividends hefty and your employees happy.