The Calgary Chamber unveiled today a major initiative that aims to rally the city’s businesses during a “time of change.”
Called It’s Grow Time, the initiative is reaching out to businesses from all sectors and all sizes to band together with a renewed focus on growth, the Chamber stated in its announcement.
“We need to move forward, we need to get that spring back in our step,” Sandip Lalli, Chamber president and CEO, told Calgary’s Business.
Lalli said she has been listening to business voices since she assumed her role in March of this year. She said the Chamber had hundreds of conversations with business owners and leaders as it developed the initiative.
During hard times, businesses “naturally hunker down,” but now leaders are telling her that business needs to work together and support each other. Lalli says the program is working to drive strong flow so that more deals are funded and transacted.
“We are at a pivotal time in our growth as a city,” she said. “The business community in Calgary is diversifying and we are beginning a dynamic new period of economic focus and growth.”
Lalli said the Chamber is calling on all businesses to “leverage this time of change” and to build a stronger collective business voice.
“There has never been a better time for us to stand together,” she said.
The city is struggling to recover from one of the toughest economic downturns in a generation. With the collapse of oil prices in 2014, Calgary experienced massive layoffs in the oil and gas sector, and the gutting of many downtown office towers.
In 2017, office vacancy peaked at 27.7 per cent and has only improved slightly since. Toronto, by comparison, has a downtown office vacancy rate of less than four per cent.
While the impact has been painful, market watchers say Calgary is well positioned for a rebound, according to Altus Group vice-president Ray Wong. Calgary has an inventory of high-quality, modern office space, with efficient heating and cooling systems, environmentally friendly footprints and motivated landlords.
“The key issue, I think, facing the office market nationally is the chase for talent, finding qualified people to fill key positions, in either the tech sector, the energy sector or skilled labour,” he said in a recent interview. “And that’s what Calgary has.”
The city tried to leverage those assets in its bid last year to be chosen as the home for Amazon’s HQ2. However, it was not shortlisted and a location for the headquarters has yet to be announced. There has been recent speculation that Washington, D.C., will be chosen because of its close proximity to the so-called Data Center Alley, through which 70 per cent of the U.S.’s Internet traffic flows.
It’s Grow Time has some big endorsements, including statements from the CEOs of Imperial Oil, Nutrien and RGO.
“We are 100 per cent behind the It’s Grow Time theme, as we want the world to know that we’re confident, we’re innovative, and we’re a valuable place to do business,” Imperial CEO Rich Kruger said in a statement.
The 127-year-old Calgary Chamber is one of the oldest and most widely recognized business advocacy groups in the city.
“When Calgary businesses thrive, our city and our communities flourish,” said Phil Roberts, Calgary Chamber chair.
The It’s Grow Time message will be advertised on billboards, in buildings, online and on the radio. It will also be a major theme during Small Business Week YYC, Oct. 15 to 19.
Doug Firby is president of Troy Media Digital Solutions and publisher of Calgary’s Business and Troy Media.