HicksBiz Blog

Future bright for natural gas: Hicks Biz in the Edmonton Sun, Sept. 22, 2012

Don’t crack the champagne yet. But if the South African energy giant Sasol goes ahead with its unique GTL (Gas to Liquids) refinery close to Fort Saskatchewan, it’ll be one giant boost to the region. Sasol’s patented technology converts natural gas into diesel fuel. How about $8 billion spent mostly around Edmonton, to get it built? To put that figure in perspective, it’s as much as the entire provincial education budget. How about 5,000 skilled trades workers employed over a three-year build? How about, once operational, 500 permanent skilled jobs? We haven’t seen the possibility of such eye-popping numbers, this close to Edmonton, since the Petro-Can refinery expansion and the final phases of Shell’s Scotford refinery/upgrader. All about the price of gas The caution comes because nothing is a done deal. Sasol’s unique technology depends on the price of natural gas (hereto referred to simply as “gas”) staying down, and the price of oil/diesel sta ... Read the rest of entry »

Let's get the arena deal done: Hicks on Biz, Edmonton Sun, Oct. 6, 2012

So the Katz Group — owner of the Edmonton Oilers NHL hockey team, and operator of the proposed new downtown arena — is back for more. The story, huge headlines three weeks ago, is that our municipally elected councillors were "blindsided" when presented behind closed doors with new, unexpected financial demands from the Katz Group as part of the new arena deal. Daryl Katz last weekend issued a statement in a full-page ad, apologizing for his bull-headedness. Certainly that statement softened down the antagonism. Nobody outside the Katz Group has access to the team's audited financial statements. The club, like all NHL teams, is privately held. Nobody besides Revenue Canada knows how much it does or doesn't make. Daryl Katz will not open his books, even behind closed doors, to city council or its representatives. We are forced to accept, on faith, that the Oilers are a break-even proposition at best. The Forbes business magazine article pegging Oilers profits at $7 million in 2010/11 was nothin ... Read the rest of entry »

Cultural clashes: A review of A Few Good Men, at the Citadel Theatre until Oct. 7, 2012

Review of A Few Good Men Citadel Theatre, Shoctor Stage, Until Oct. 7, 2012 Tickets at www.citadeltheatre.com By Graham Hicks You won’t find a more satisfying evening of theatre than the Citadel’s A Few Good Men. Don’t let the fact it was made into a Hollywood blockbuster film with a troika of stars  (Jack Nicholson, Tom Cruise, Demi Moore) put you off. The film was based on a most complete theatre script, a classic American courtroom drama. That script has been explored and exploited to its fullest by Citadel director and Artistic Associate James MacDonald, who has his large cast firing on all cylinders. They manoeuver through the technical intricacies of set changes built into the show as effortlessly as fish moving through water. A Few Good Men is loosely based on a real-life story of Marines at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba (pre-Iraq) taking justice into their own hands to discipline a less-than-committed Marine in their midst.  “Hazing” is one o ... Read the rest of entry »

Edmonton's bus service, the good, the great, and the just plain ugly ... with a focus on the airport bus

Don't get me wrong, I am quite pleased, overall, with Edmonton Transit.Service is pretty good on most routes, drivers are for the most part pleasant, patient, friendly and good drivers.The LRT is very efficient. During rush hours, they come every five to six minutes. I can get from my home near the University's South Campus to downtown (one bus) in 25 min. to 30 min. during rush hour, and, best of all, I don't have to battle traffic heading home.But, we have a ways to go.Last weekend, I took the ETS route 747 (cute) bus from the Century Park LRT terminal to the International Airport. This is a great service for any traveller with a minimum of luggage and easy access to the LRT ... way cheaper than parking at or near the airport for a number of days.But ... 1. The actual bus stop at Century Park is impossible to find the first time you use it. It's on 111 Street, not in the main bus station. 2. It costs $5, but the driver doesn't give change!!! Would it be that difficult for the Route 747 driver to carry a few ... Read the rest of entry »

Alberta's economy IS diversifying: Hicks on Biz column originally published in the Edmonton Sun, Sept. 15, 2012

The mantra is repeated every day, everywhere.Alberta must cease being a one-trick pony dependent on the oil and gas industry, government mandarins murmur.Diversify, diversify, successive political party leaders shout out to their constituents.A funny thing has happened on the way to the Coliseum.Led by market forces, out-of-the-box thinking and judicious quasi-government priming, hundreds of new businesses are creating new wealth that will pay the taxes that will one day get our new arena/concert hall built.Here are four northern Alberta companies I have come across, outside the oil patch so creative, so promising, they do nothing but bode well for the future, for your kids' future careers.CLYW (formerly Caribou Lodge Yo Yo Works) (www.cariboublog.com)Edmonton is home to one of the world's top "return top" manufacturers. (The word "yo yo" is trademarked in Canada. "Yo-yoer" or "yo-yoing" is not.)Chris Mikulin's return tops are considered the Ferraris or Lamborghinis of the international yo-yoing world. They s ... Read the rest of entry »

Meals are Naanolicious: Weekly Dish column originally published in Edmonton Sun, Sept. 12, 2012

Why didn't anybody think of this before?East Indian (South Asian) cooking is as deeply engrained into Canadian food habits as Chinese, Vietnamese or Thai, arguably more so if you look at the actual number of Indian restaurants in Edmonton — 59 by the Urbanspoon's website count.So why not create a new Canadian street food, combining the popular tastes of India with the style and price of pizza and fries?Which is precisely what Monica Kapur of the New Asian Village restaurant dynasty has done.Naanolicious, in the heart of Old Strathcona close by the Princess Theatre on Whyte Avenue, has great fun tossing together classic Western and South Asian staples.Naan is the delicious, light, slightly leavened Indian flatbread that one finds more and more outside the traditional East Indian setting.In Naanolicious's case, naan serves as a replacement for traditional pizza crust. You want fusion — try the Hawaiian (pineapple and ham), the pepperoni and mushrooms, or the meat lovers naan. You want traditional — Monica has ... Read the rest of entry »

Don't believe the economic spin!: Hicks on Biz originally published in Edmonton Sun, Sept. 8, 2012

There we went again.Hiring those Bachelorettes, or whatever they were, for $20,000 to hang here in Edmonton for a couple of days and gush positive in Tweets and Facebook postings and LinkedIns and Flickrs, created $200,000 in “earned media value.”So we are told by spin doctors with perfectly straight faces.Actually it was revised on Wednesday, to 32 million social media “hits” worth $550,000!Economic development/tourism folks kill their credibility by placing such absurd value on something that’s impossible to evaluate.The theory is these happy hired guns, waxing poetic about Edmonton via social media, will lead to “heightened awareness” of our mid-sized Canadian prairie city best known for Wayne Gretzky and West Edmonton Mall.“Heightened awareness,” the argument goes, indirectly leads to more visitors, spending more money. And, even more theoretical, “heightened awareness” make Edmonton more attractive when city-based employers are competing for specialized employees.The silliness of placing a dollar value o ... Read the rest of entry »

Master chef is quite a character: Weekly Dish column originally published in Edmonton Sun, Sept. 5, 2012

Characters Fine Dining, 10257 105 St. 780 421-4100 www.characters.ca It is delightful to head to a restaurant where the chef is in full control, is a true master of the kitchen, and likes to have fun.When an extremely young Shonn Oborowsky returned from European and Asian chef apprenticeships, he opened Characters on 105 Street.It’ll never work, scoffed skeptical foodies. The kid’s just been given a toy by his parents. (Dad Don Oborowsky owns Waiward Steel, both Don and Shonn’s mom Judy are community leaders.) Edmonton’s not ready for another high-end restaurant, they said.Well. 13 years later, Characters is not only still here, it’s thriving.And certainly, after our fine-dining experience last week, Characters must be included in any list of Edmonton’s Top 10 restaurants.Characters is in its own stand-alone building, a single-story former warehouse on 105 Street a few blocks north of Jasper. The 50-something crowd may remember Night Fever dancing here, when it was the Sugar Tree discotheque. ... Read the rest of entry »

Picking the right mobile carrier can save customers hassle and big bucks: Graham Hicks' Hicks on Biz column, originally published in Edmonton Sun Sept. 1, 2012

I have a smartphone made by a once-mighty cellphone manufacturer, on a major Canadian mobility carrier’s three-year contract.A year-and-a-half ago, the phone was considered at the top of the smartphone pile.Today, I’m counting the months to the end of the contract. Not because of the carrier, but because this phone has been overtaken by superior competing mobile phone manufacturers. It takes forever to access the Internet, is slow to load websites, and too often the words aren’t formatted to fit my device’s screen.Welcome to the world of lightning change, called cellphones.How do you decide what carrier/network to use, what phone to buy, when things change so quickly?I’m hoping this Hicks on Biz – consumer’s edition – will help you make an informed choice.If I was starting over today, here are some of the things I’d look into. The network I want a carrier that has coverage right across Canada, no matter where I am. The most extensive networks belong to the Big Three – TELUS, Bell and Rogers. Generally speakin ... Read the rest of entry »

Violina a classical delight: Graham Hicks Weekly Dish column originally published in the Edmonton Sun Aug. 29, 2012

There’s going out for dinner.Then there’s dining out.Violino Gastronomica Italiana should be an all-evening affair, best experienced with those whose company one truly enjoys, whose culinary expectations equal one’s own.The atmosphere in the beautiful old mansion on High Street lends itself to the spirit of dining out. It once housed La Spiga, before Vince and Connie Cultraro uprooted to Palm Springs.The tables are set for classical dining, with linen tablecloths and napkins, multi-course cutlery, sparkling wine glasses and discreet waiters in suits or tuxedos.As is so often the case in Edmonton, fine dining at Violino’s is Italian. The menu moves from primi piatti (first plates) to zuppa e insalata (soups and salads), pasta e risotto (pastas and risotto-style rice), manzo e pesce (meat and fish), finishing with dolci (dessert).Our party of four is at Violino’s to eat well.And we do.The beginning is auspicious, with one of the finest antipasto misto platters I have ever sampled. In formal Italian cuisine, ant ... Read the rest of entry »