Mayor Jyoti Gondek told an audience of the city’s business community that Calgary needs to be “telling our own story,” to help change perceptions of investors elsewhere.
Gondek gave a “state of the city” address to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, in which she spoke of further collaboration with business and touted economic successes.
“The message of collaboration and strength in numbers is important,” Gondek told reporters.
“If we are actually going to promote our city as a place that people should invest their capital and a place that draws talent, we have to show that we’re willing to work together.”
The mayor spoke of trips to conferences in Toronto, Vancouver and Houston to promote Calgary, where she said attendees “were enamoured by who Calgary really is.”
In her speech, Gondek said there was surprise from those learning Calgary is the third-most diverse city in Canada, with the fastest growing tech sector in North America.
“‘Calgary?’ they asked. ‘Indeed,’ I responded,” she told the room.
“It was a pleasure to share the real version of Calgary with these folks who had some dated stereotype in their heads.”
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The mayor also mentioned the construction of the Green Line LRT, and investments to convert more than 700,000 square feet of downtown office space to residential homes have also garnered interest from outside investors.
For Maxim Olshevsky, managing director of Peoplefirst Developments, recruiting talent to Calgary has been successful with help from a lower cost of living in comparison to other cities like Toronto and Vancouver.
But he said there have been challenges in terms of what Calgary is known for.
“Overcoming the stigma of the cowtown, our wonderful place filled with cowboys and Stampede,” Olshevsky told Global News.
“Everybody knows Stampede, but there’s so much more to Calgary than that.”
Calgary Chamber of Commerce CEO Deborah Yedlin agreed with the mayor that Calgary needs to promote itself rather than rely on voices who have never been to the city.
“It is frustrating when you go east and you start to talk about what’s going on in the city, and people say, ‘I had no idea,’” Yedlin said.
“If I had a dollar for every ‘I had no idea,’ I’d have a pretty nice nest egg by now.”
Consultations underway to revisit Calgary’s branding
Wednesday’s speech comes as work continues on a refresh of the city’s branding for several organizations, including Calgary Economic Development (CED) and Tourism Calgary.
According to CED CEO Brad Parry, work has been ongoing for about seven months, which included engagement with hundreds of Calgarians and community organizations.
“This is really the strategic underpinning of what we want our brand as a city to be, not just today, but in the future. It has to be aspirational,” he told Global News.
“The work we’ve been doing is really understanding what are Calgarians’ perspectives.”
Parry said the results of that engagement are currently in market testing, with a search for creative and agency partners to help develop the branding for the long term.
“It’s about providing people the platform for which they can tell the story in their language for their audience to understand,” Parry said.
Parry also pointed to new data released from Statistics Canada on Wednesday that shows interprovincial migration to Alberta grew significantly in the second quarter of 2022.
According to ATB Financial, it was the largest net gain for Alberta since the second quarter of 2014.
“People are noticing what’s happening in Alberta. People are noticing what’s happening in Calgary, and all these efforts are paying dividends,” Olshevsky said.
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That migration began prior to a new campaign from the provincial government called “Alberta is Calling,” which is aimed at attracting talent from Toronto and Vancouver.
When asked about that campaign, Gondek said it took her and city officials “completely by surprise.”
“I guess it’s kind of cool. I wish we had known it was being launched because we already had our own campaign in market,” Gondek said. “Anytime we’re promoting our province and our city, it’s great.”
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