Derek Hudson took over as the new CEO of the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation on Aug. 8, 2018.Greg Southam / Postmedia

By GRAHAM HICKS

I think I understand.

Sorta.

The new head of the Edmonton Economic Development (EEDC) – the city’s business development agency – wants to change the worn-out economic buzz word “diversity” to the more practical notion of “resiliency.”

“Diversity is fine,” says Derek Hudson, just promoted from within the organization to take over the EEDC leadership reins from Brad Ferguson. “But the reality is most of our economic fortune is tied back to the price of oil and heavy industrial construction.

“To be resilient is for the city to withstand the shocks that hit us – swings in commodity prices, geo-political (i.e. pipelines/tariffs); to work towards an economy that’s more balanced, to encourage sectors that work in different business cycles.”

Ferguson was all about marketing. He successfully found a voice and an identity for Edmonton that resonated both within the city as well as nationally and internationally.

“Brad developed Edmonton’s brand and identity,” says Hudson.” Now it’s my job, with the community, to build a system behind that brand, to execute and optimize what was developed over the last five years.”

Hudson is an advocate for “modelling” the Edmonton economy, to put together and assess all of Edmonton’s economic influences and drivers, “to know, for instance, that if the Canadian dollar is low, tourism in Edmonton will increase.”

In terms of self-assessment, Hudson wants to move away from EEDC’s reporting of “economic impact” to an annual assessment, and recommended adjustments, of the urban economy itself.

“Economic impact statements have tended to centre on EEDC’s own activities,” he says. “Analyzing the structure of the city’s economy, whether we are over-represented here or under-represented there, could be a more productive exercise.

“If the model shows a shortage of knowledge-based workers, then we know that’s an area that needs adjustment.”

Diversity has always implied on over-dependence on the oil + gas economy, that we must somehow completely wean ourselves off fossil fuel revenues.

Resiliency suggests a more flexible approach, Hudson postulates.

Encouraging Edmonton companies with expertise in greening fossil fuels “would be one way to play off our strengths. We are really good at all kinds of energy technologies.”

The knowledge base on which an AI (artificial intelligence) industry can grow is happening in town, thanks to the University of Alberta, the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute and the setting up of a DeepMind (Google’s artificial intelligence firm) research office in town.

From AI research can develop made-in-Edmonton practical  AI industrial applications, says Hudson. “EEDC can pull together elements, can help develop business models to facilitate the movement of new AI technology from university labs to the shop floor, to bring AI into local industrial activities.”

Such potential practical application of artificial intelligence to industry counts as “resilience” in my books!

Hudson appreciates that the EEDC board, for the first time in its history, choose a new president and CEO from within the organization. “It’s a chance to smoothly build on what EEDC has accomplished,” he suggests, “refining, not lurching.”

I like resiliency. I like the idea of Edmonton concentrating on its strengths – i.e. bringing new productivity-enhancing technologies to existing sectors. I like the idea of technology-exports, value-added food products, tourism and other sectors – both energy and non-energy – taking up some of the slack when the energy sector struggles.

I’m not sure, however, that any macro-business model can forecast and then compensate for the “geo-politics” of the government and quasi-government sector.

Being Alberta’s capital, Edmonton is very much a government town. An astounding one-in-four working Edmontonians are employed in provincial government services, health care or education.

We all know the current government is borrowing billions to maintain existing front-line services. We know the United Conservative Party, should it take power next year, will immediate put the brakes to public sector spending.

The impact of such (overdue) restraint could conceivably jolt Edmonton as much as low oil prices pounded Calgary. I highly doubt that any EEDC model, resilient or not, could come up with alternatives to compensate for such a sudden drop, or the fear of such a drop, in the city’s gross collective income.