Alberta’s investment climate has been very challenging in recent years. At times, it has been hard to see opportunities – particularly in Calgary, where the business environment has been negatively affected by the downturn in the energy sector, followed by the impact of COVID-19.
But now, there is reason for renewed optimism. Alberta is increasingly being seen as a leading innovator in developing clean energy solutions and is poised to benefit from a growing interest by investors increasingly focused on solving the climate crisis. Through the Pathways to Net Zero initiative, major energy companies representing 95 per cent of oil sands production recently committed to net-zero emissions by 2050 to meet Canada’s climate goal. The solutions developed through this initiative have the potential to decarbonize the global industrial complex, which is also faced with the need to decrease emissions. In addition, recent investments announced by Amazon Web Services and accelerators like Plug and Play, ag tech accelerator, Thrive, and fintech startup, Neo Financial, demonstrate the growing diversity of business in Calgary.
What do global changes mean for investment in Alberta moving forward? How can we become a destination for investment that fuels strong economic recovery and growth and vibrant communities?
To realize these opportunities and understand what they represent, let’s dive deeper with investors to explore what we must do to position Alberta as a beacon for new investment to further diversify our economy and ensure long-term growth.
Investors need to know the rules of the game so they can make long-term decisions and justify taking risks. And they need to know the rules aren’t going to suddenly change. For investors, those rules are government regulations. Studies show regulations must be predictable, transparent and be in place beyond the election cycle to attract and encourage investment.
The importance of predictability and transparency is clear for emerging opportunities like the energy transformation in Alberta. Richard Manley, Head of Sustainable Investing at the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, says regulatory certainty allows Alberta to attract investment to support the next phase of the transformation to a lower carbon future.
“When you have clarity on the rules of the road, you reduce the uncertainty of the business decision you’re about to make,” says Manley. “And among the different economies of the world, Canada has a pretty good understanding of the regulatory aspects of this transition and carbon pricing. Now, the opportunity is to focus on learning more about technologies for this transition and blending public and private finance, both of which will continue to increase certainty for investors.”
From this perspective, Canada and Alberta need to collaborate and continue to commit to fostering a predictable, transparent regulatory environment. It’s important to balance the need for regulations to keep markets fair and ensure quality goods and services are provided, against the need to enable businesses to thrive in a competitive environment.
Policy overlaps, inconsistencies and gaps must be identified and removed. Regulation and policy should be communicated in simple language where possible.
Regulations must be responsive to technological developments, emerging research, and impact analyses, while providing businesses with certainty so they can move forward and adopt new technology.
Consistent engagement with business owners detailing the challenges and opportunities faced during the pandemic has resulted in quick thinking, rapid action, and successful initiatives led by government. Continuing this agile approach post-pandemic will allow investors need to make deals and seed capital in Alberta.
Beyond regulatory certainty, Alberta’s investment climate can be improved through greater collaboration between organizations in the community and governments. Fostering those relationships and a culture of collaboration often starts at the local level.
“The Mayor and City Council specifically play a really important role in supporting the investment ecosystem in Calgary,” said Paul Dugsin, General Partner at Raiven Capital.
“Early on in the development and attraction of investment it is a mayor that often gets the ball rolling, but true collaboration occurs equally between various levels of government. When you take interest in a jurisdiction elsewhere, often you immediately get a meeting with government officials at all levels and community partners like the Chamber, and they are all selling the same merits on why to invest.”
Municipal governments have a critical responsibility to advance their city, including by attracting investment, but are often constrained by their fiscal situations. It is also clear that investors are looking for alignment between municipal, provincial and national governments. Based on these realities, legislative and regulatory changes are needed to allow cities to pursue local innovation, enhance the necessary collaboration that attracts investment and improves their overall well-being.
We can improve our investment climate by focusing on the positive stories that highlight what makes businesses and the people they employ choose to call Calgary home.
“It’s two things – how do we tell our story, and at the end of the day, what is preventing companies from coming here?” said Dugsin. “It’s not clear that we always understand the right mix of what drives these decisions. In part, it’s about livability, social programs and community, but it’s also about dollars and cents.”
Jon Horsman, Senior Executive Vice President of Business at ATB Financial and CEO of ATB Capital Markets, agrees.
"Entrepreneurship, technology and innovation are major factors in attracting the talent that will contribute to investment in our economy," said Horsman. "Calgary and Alberta are young and diverse places, where everybody has an opportunity to contribute. We understand business cycles, we understand risk and we understand that new ways of working offer a certain quality of life that attracts talent here."
Finding the winning mix will involve collaboration between the federal, provincial, and municipal governments, and will be about valuing both community vibrancy and inclusion as economic outcomes. It will also be important to reimage Calgary’s downtown and rebalance and stabilize property taxes. For Calgary, this is all possible and within reach. Calgary is an active city, with a young, diverse, educated population.
Work with post-secondary institutions, and governments at all levels to ensure there is adequate funding to equip students with the skills needed to be part of the evolution of the local economy. Whether it’s software development, machine learning or understanding how technology supports all industries to become more competitive – post-secondary education is critical to Alberta’s future economic success.
With a new year beginning, we have a chance to plant the seeds that will attract opportunity and capital to Alberta. A chance to secure a leading position in the economy of the future. The Calgary Chamber of Commerce is at the table with all levels of government, and we are interested in hearing how you believe we can attract new investment and ensure economic growth for all of us.