Do you travel through or live in downtown Calgary?
Do you glare at our skyscrapers and see only a few lights on?
This is a tale of a cowtown that stopped producing milk, even our ranch has closed. If there was a light at the end of this tunnel, not even our top economic spokespeople can offer any of us a realistic answer for where we are at now, or when we will even see the light. The economic destruction from COVID-19 continues to ravage the health of local businesses and almost every other industry that calls our city home. With that, there is a lot more to the story that reaches beyond March of this year. The question is, what does a pillar city in Canada do when their downtown is empty and graduates continue to emigrate?
Recent data from the CBRE from Q3 of 2020 show the office vacancy in downtown Calgary has hit 28.7%. That number may seem irrelevant without comparison to other metropolitan places in the country. The chart below shows the office vacancy percentages based on data collected of unused office space by square footage in the downtown core in each identified city.
The clarification we are lacking is that there is a very real problem with attracting commercial activity. The challenge lies within the lack of large firms that have more than 1,000 employees to fill these empty sky-high office buildings.
We cannot simply just ask companies to move their workforce, an example being Suncor’s recent decision to uproot 700 employees from Ontario to relocate to Calgary. Better described as 700 humans with families, friends and communities in Ontario. No figures have been released to state how many jobs will be coming to Calgary.
Almost within the same week, we see the consolidation of Husky Energy by Cenovus. This does make “fiscal” sense for the financial health and future of the company, becoming the third-largest oil and natural gas producer in the country. Citing a piece in the Financial Post by Diane Francis, Cenovus will close the Husky head office in Calgary, which is not reflected in the Q3 data released by the CBRE.
If we keep in mind that the headquarters for Husky Energy Inc was Western Canada Place, where we saw the Apache Corporation “strategically exit” Canada back in 2017. It will become clear in the near future that we could see another tenant evacuation of a huge building in downtown Calgary.
One piece of that 28.7% of our current office vacancy is due to Nexen leaving their building on 8th street completely vacant, setting up shop in the same building as the newly purchased Husky Energy Inc. In this case, bottom level retail such as cafe’s are not included as occupied office space.
If there are corporate tax incentives in almost every major city in the efforts of attracting big business, therein lies the question. What else can Calgary offer to sway large firms to come here? Take a look at the chart below stating the 2020 Corporate Income Tax Rates in Canada.
At some point in the recent history of Alberta, competitiveness turned into desperation. There is some benefit to local entrepreneurs looking to set up a business by lowering the barrier to entry, however, have we really seen that as a result of the lowest corporate tax rates in the country?
Looking at the fact sheet prepared by Calgary Economic Development in May of this year. As shown in the chart below, take a look at the new and renewed business licenses. It is crucial to note that COVID-19 has created a mountain of economic problems for almost every city, which we can assume had a major impact on the 2020 numbers seen below. We may see this continuing to decline as the pandemic continues to ravage our economy.
In addition, it is important to note the lack of new business licenses issued since 2017. This is not a new problem but has been exacerbated by COVID-19.
When faced with a challenge, Calgarians do not quit. The piece of the puzzle that has yet to be found is to restore incentive to local and foreign investment. The ideology that big tech would eventually be “sold” on Calgary’s infrastructure has not gained traction.
Recent history teaches us that big tech follows big tech, an example being TikTok opening a new headquarters in Dublin back in August of this year, where companies such as Alphabet, Amazon, eBay, Paypal and Facebook also have European headquarters. While these names are well-known globally, the economic and sociological effect it could have on our city would offer Calgarians some indication that we are actually progressing in some way.
Consider being a graduate enrolled in an extensive and expensive program this year. The lack of economic progress is tied with the lack of jobs in a psychologically destructive way. If we cannot incentivize foreign investment and create new job opportunities, more importantly, how do we hold on to waves of eager graduates that are well aware of the benefits of moving to other cities or countries?
The narrative that new graduates carrying thousands of dollars in debt are given any chance to achieve anything close to previous generations in Calgary back in the high oil and gas days is now an irrelevant argument. Understandable that they may pack up and leave for greener pastures.
The evidence is in the 2019 Calgary Civic Census. The age demographic of 20-24 is our second lowest age demographic sitting at 5.94%, the lowest being the 15-19 year olds sitting at only 5.28%. The chart below shows the breakdown of our Calgary’s age segmentation.
Cities such as Vancouver and Toronto last conducted their population census in 2016. The comparison data ranked Calgary 29th out of 35 cities in Canada for the age demographic of 20-24. Thinking about the cities you are aware of in Canada, to not even rank in the top 10 for young adults adds to the enormous problem we will be attempting to remedy for an unknown amount of time. This data can be seen clearly in a CBC post relating to this issue.
The information above may offer some real data that has very real implications. However, the narrative less documented is what sentiment do young people feel in Calgary and what is left to be proud of. It cannot just be the Stampede or nothing at all. Even after emigrating to another city or country, what is it that they tell their newfound community about their home city? The vibrant, creative and hard-working young people in this city have a fighting chance, but only if there is some benefit to their future staying here. Without awareness of foundational values, celebration of culture and real opportunity to rely upon in your city, understandably, young people will continue to leave and seldomly will ever return.
Calgary.ca, “Calgary Civic Census 2019.” 2019 Civic Census Results, 2019, p. 18, Calgary.ca.
CBRE, “Canada’s Office and Industrial Quarterly Statistics Q3 2020”, CBRE.ca.
Calgary Economic Development, “Fact Sheet: Calgary Small Business”, 2020 Edition Published: June 24, 2020, p 6., Calgaryeconomicdevelopment.ca
For more stories, please visit Todayville Calgary
Will Nenshi Seek a Fourth Term in the 2021 Calgary General Election?
After a tumultuous 2020, characterized by public outcries and wavering political leadership, the Calgary General Election is scheduled to take place on October 18, 2021. Nominations opened on January 4, and will close on September 20, one month before the election.
The Calgary race currently features 9 prospective candidates who have announced their intentions to run for the position of mayor in October. The majority of these announcements were expressed on social media, however, the City of Calgary website currently lists only 2 official mayoral candidates who have submitted their forms.
James Desautels announced his candidacy early, in August 2020.
Brad Field announced his intent to run on November 18th, 2020.
Chibunna Theodore Ogbonna, who goes by Teddy, also announced his intent to run in November 2020.
Shaoli Wang shared his intent to run in December 2020.
Most recently, Ward 3 Councilor Jyoti Gondek announced her intent to run on Wednesday, January 13th, along with former president of the Kerby Centre for seniors, Zane Novak, who announced his intent to run on Wednesday morning.
Naheed Nenshi, who has held the position of Mayor in Calgary since his election in 2010, has yet to announce his intentions for this year’s race. He has expressed uncertainty regarding running for a fourth term in the city, and was reported by Global News in December simply stating, “It’s bad procrastination on my part, but we are dealing with a pandemic and nobody’s got time for politics right now. We have to be focused on public health.” Officials are expecting Nenshi to announce his plans soon.
Similar to the Canadian Federal model, Calgary’s current political structure does not impose a term limit on government officials, meaning the mayor can hold office as long as he maintains the popular vote. Councilor Joe Magliocca proposed introducing term limits in 2018, which would restrict mayors and city councilors to serving a maximum of 3 terms. However, following a controversial debate, the motion was defeated by council.
Following the havoc of 2020, this year’s race promises to be an interesting one. The candidates advocate for disparate approaches to economic recovery in the wake of COVID-19’s detrimental effects on the local business landscape and Calgary communities. It is unclear whether Calgarians desire for strong political leadership in the midst of deeply uncertain times will manifest in the re-election of our current mayor should he choose to run once again, or in the election of a new candidate to lead Calgary into a prosperous future. Only time will tell.
For more stories, visit Todayville Calgary.
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