HicksBiz Blog

The greening of the oil sands: Graham Hicks' speech to Red Deer Rotary and Kiwanis clubs on Monday, August 26, 2013

Thanks so much for the invitation to speak to your club. Let me tell you why I’m here. Two years ago, I retired as a full-time  columnist at The Edmonton Sun newspaper.  Not to go golfing, but to do something different, something meaningful with the 10 to 15 productive years I may have left in me. What to do? Looking around, an obvious theme emerged. Nobody was speaking with a clear, objective voice about the oil sands. Vilifying the “tar” sands are those convinced beyond reason that fossil fuels will be the death of us all due to Greenhouse Gas Emissions causing global warming and pollution.  Since Al Gore’s terribly misleading documentary An Inconvenient Truth, the oil sands became a symbolic, easy target. All that is wrong with man’s abysmal treatment of Mother Earth can be summed up with bitter disgust in THE TAR SANDS.  But those defending the oil sands are suspect as well. All have a vested monetary interest in this black gold, be in the Canadian ... Read the rest of entry »

Trains, Mayors, Money and More: Hicks on Biz column, originally published in Edmonton Sun Aug. 24, 2013

By GRAHAM HICKS Random Hicks on Biz thoughts, opinions and straight information from the business lands of Northern Alberta: •All this pie-in-the-sky talk about bullet trains, magnet trains or giant vacuum tubes sucking humans from Calgary to Edmonton: Why not just a faster train? Down east, in the Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa triangle, plus the Montreal-Quebec City run, VIA Rail competes with short-haul jets and inter-city buses. Its trains travel at 100 to 150 kph, offer comfortable seating, meeting spaces, wi-fi, restaurant cars and competitive pricing. VIA actually has the Calgary-Edmonton run in its radar, once it gets the golden triangle figured out. •Why is EPCOR pushing so hard to have residential customers insure their water line (from your home to the street main) with just one insurance company, HomeServe?  Insuring water lines was never a concern in the past, why is it so important today, especially at $10 a month? Aren’t aging residential drainage pipes in more danger ... Read the rest of entry »

Burg Burger too pricey: Weekly Dish review of The Burg, originally published in Edmonton Sun Aug. 21, 2013

The Burg Burger & Bar 10190 104 St. 780-760-1780 www.theburg4st.ca Food: 3 of 5 Suns Ambience: 4 of 5 Suns Service: 3.5 of 5 Sun Dinner for two, excluding beverages: Basic, $30, loaded $70 By GRAHAM HICKS I am conflicted when it comes to reviewing the downtown’s latest trendy restaurant, The Burg Burger and Bar at 104 Street and 102 Avenue. For the choice of location, the interior design and the overall look, magnificent, 4.5 of five stars! For the actual food itself, from a critical point of view, barely a three. But for the food, as in attracting as many people as possible through the front doors, closer to a four. The food, you see, is all about burgers — four hamburgers, a bison, turkey, fish, vegan and two chicken burgers constitute all the main courses, plus a “build-your-own” option. I’m not sure how much more unadventurous a restaurant could be. But on a Friday at 6 p.m., The Burg’s loosely defined bar area is two-thirds ful ... Read the rest of entry »

Where money's not king: The economics of the Edmonton Folk Festival - Hicks on Biz, originally published in Edmonton Sun Aug. 18, 2013

It’s not so much myth as expectation. In Alberta, private enterprise and capitalism rules. The way to happiness is through wealth. Wealth is created from profit. Profit is usually created by growth. Private enterprise, we believe with all our Wild Rose hearts, is simply a more efficient and better way of doing things. Money is what motivates us. Money is how we keep score. Then there’s the Edmonton Folk Music Festival. It’s a provincial paradox. This organization lives and deals in the free-market world. But it doesn’t really care about money. It sells out in 12 minutes but refuses to raise its prices. It lets in under 12s, over 80s and surrounding neighbours for free. It refuses to grow. About 22,000 people, over 3.5 days last weekend at the downtown Gallagher Park, is just fine, thank you. It’s as egalitarian as can be. “The rich can’t buy their way to the front of the line,” says GM and artistic director Terry Wickham. It gives a po ... Read the rest of entry »

Sub-par sushi - Weekly Dish review of Japonaise Bistro originally published in Edmonton Sun Aug. 14, 2013

Japonais Bistro 11806 Jasper Ave. 780 760 1616 www.japonaisbistro.ca Food: 3 of 5 Ambience: 3.5 of 5 Service: 3.5 of 5 Dinner for two (excluding drinks and tip), basic, $30; loaded $60. Maybe it was the time - a Saturday lunch. But that's no excuse. A good restaurant should produce good food at all times. My money is worth no less depending on the time of day or week. The buzz around Japonais Bistro, on Jasper Avenue West between Earl’s Tin Palace and Famoso, has been of a Japanese sushi house with a contemporary, "fusion" take on North-American style Japanese cuisine. But such was not the lunch our party had. It was a thoroughly normal Japanese lunch, the same sushi (the variations on fish, rice and seaweed wrappers) as is found at every Japanese restaurant. The fish was not as fresh as one would expect from a sushi house with a reputation. It wasn't particularly fresh at all. On the patio of what was for many years Suede Lounge, we ordered two "custom-des ... Read the rest of entry »

Edmonton’s high-rise condo explosion: Hicks on Biz, originally published Edmonton Sun Aug. 10, 2013

BY GRAHAM HICKS ,EDMONTON SUN   From the river valley, the building seems to keep going up forever. Will the under-construction Pearl condo tower, at Jasper and 119 Street, never stop adding floors? Is it a latter-day Jack’s beanstalk? The Pearl has just now maxed out at 36 stories, vying with ManuLife and the EPCOR Tower as the city’s tallest building. The Pearl is the start of an exciting new trend. An astounding 27 new high-rise condo towers are in design, permitting or construction stages, the vast majority over 20 stories, about 10 heading north of 30 stories. These towers are elegant, modern, skinny, twisty and all-glass, far removed from the upright shoe boxes of just seven or eight years ago. What’s caused this explosion of risk-taking in new, up-in-the-sky urban dwellings? First and foremost, population growth thanks to a buoyant economy. Educated young adult Canadians are moving to Alberta and Edmonton. We are accustomed to saying Alberta ... Read the rest of entry »

A look at Edmonton's best bakeries: Weekly Dish originally published Edmonton Sun Aug. 7, 2013

BY GRAHAM HICKS ,EDMONTON SUN In Edmonton’s food world, two parallel universes exist.  There’s the big-time grocery chains — Superstore, Save On, Safeway, Costco, Walmart, Sobeys. Then there’s the independents — an amazing race of hardy food and produce proprietors who manage to survive and even prosper against all odds. That hundreds, probably a thousand or more independent grocers, bakeries and food specialists do exist is tribute to the pertinacity of Edmonton citizens willing to pay more for “artisan” quality, i.e. food produced (or sourced) by individuals with expertise, as local as possible I have no quarrel with the big-box stores of this world, as my family’s weekly shopping bill will attest. But I’m willing to spend 10% to 20% of the grocery budget in farmer’s markets, independent bakeries, speciality shops and the like. Not for particularly altruistic reasons, but because of quality. A 60-cent mass-produced croissa ... Read the rest of entry »

Edmonton's serial entrepreneurs: Hicks Biz column, originally published Edmonton Sun, Aug. 3, 2013

BY GRAHAM HICKS ,EDMONTON SUN They’re a different breed, these serial entrepreneurs. Restless risk-takers they are, reeking of confidence, willing to put their life savings in different business ventures, selling one, moving on to the next. If a business fails, they spring off the floor, retrench … and a year later they’re back. Here’s a thumbnail sketch of five well-known Edmonton entrepreneurs, all recently embarked on new business paths. Terry Bendera has poked around the oil patch since he had “a cup of coffee” with the New York Rangers during a minor-league hockey career. He worked as an employee until he figured out being an owner was more fun, and potentially more lucrative. Today, Terry is the operating partner in Leduc-based Prostar Well Services company, with financial partners, friends and hockey pals Ron Dale of Whiteridge golf accessories and Jim Ennis of J. Ennis Fabrics. Prostar is pushing into leading-edge drilling technolog ... Read the rest of entry »

The Common Lounge impresses: Weekly Dish in Edmonton Sun, originally published July 31, 2013

BY GRAHAM HICKS ,EDMONTON SUN The Common Lounge 9910 109 St. 780 452 7333 Food: 4 of 5 stars Ambience: 3 of 5 stars Service: 3 of 5 stars Dinner for two (not including drinks or tips), basic $45, loaded $65. Many a pub has opted to be a self-declared “gastro-pub," when nothing but hot sauce has been added to the ketchup. So what a treat to find The Common Lounge, on the downtown side of the High Level Bridge, is a true blue gastro-pub, i.e. a drinking establishment with food that rivals any of the better bistros. And it has great skinny fries to boot. The Common dances on a tightrope, a balancing act few others would dare try. From noon to early evening the bright and cheerful pub is a haven for foodies. By night a room divider slides back to reveal a dance pub with a DJ. The kitchen stays open until 11 p.m. with the same eclectic day-time menu … including unusual bar snacks like truffle and thyme buttered popcorn, fresh-cut home fries, Asian sticky ribs and poutine ... Read the rest of entry »

Windfall oil royalties just wishful thinking: Hicks on Biz originally published in Edmonton Sun, July 27, 2013

BY GRAHAM HICKS ,EDMONTON SUN   That ‘pop!’  was the bursting of this particular balloon. Having crafted the painful 2013/14 provincial budget in March around anticipated low royalties from oilsands oil (bitumen) and natural gas, the Redford government was delighted to see a recent upward jump in the price of bitumen. Four factors have come into play. The gap between the price of bitumen and North America’s lighter crude oil has dramatically narrowed. “The Diff” as energy analyst Peter Tertzakian suggests, may finally be gone. “Are the days of a 40% (bitumen) discount behind?” he writes in his weekly ARC Financial Research newsletter. At the same time, North America’s regular crude oil has jumped in price – by some 5%. It’s been below world prices for years, but today the North American price is just about on par. Meanwhile, oilsands bitumen production is growing as new or expanded oilsands plants come on s ... Read the rest of entry »
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