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Calgary wants to establish itself as a global hub for tech talent, and city and business leaders stopped at a Toronto tech conference this week to discuss challenges and efforts underway to attract and retain workers.
Mayor Jyoti Gondek was among the speakers representing the Alberta city at a Wednesday session hosted by the Collision conference in Toronto – calling herself a “shameless non-techie” but a passionate supporter of the industry.
She said she trusts industry leaders to come up with innovative business ideas, and as mayor, she is working on the broad question of “how to build a city people want to move to and stay in.”
“You need people to work in your organizations and you need people to be your customers. That’s what I’m focused on,” Gondek told the session. “Retention is very important.”
BUILDING A TECH WORKFORCE
That work involves talking with workers and business leaders about what they’re looking for in a livable city, such as cultural amenities and grocery stores that make immigrants feel at home.
She also referenced the city’s efforts to repurpose empty office space into housing and other amenities so workers who work in the urban core can live there.
Chloe Smith, CEO and co-founder of Calgary-based Mercator AI, said her remote-first company has had some difficulty attracting mid-tier talent, though there are plenty of entry-level and late career tech workers in the city.
While her company hires some remote workers from outside the city, she said she promotes Calgary as a home base because of its proximity to nature and outdoor activities. She also touted the benefits of a smaller city that offers easy access to funders, government officials and other partners, unlike more populated centres such as Toronto.
“Our size gives us the ability to be cool but connected,” Smith said.
Nitin Sathawane, head of Alberta business at information technology company Mphasis, said he has worked around the world in business hubs such as New York, Silicon Valley and London, and he sees Calgary as “positioned to grow,” with a strong funding, partnership and research environment.
Other panelists discussed the importance of having an ecosystem of tech companies so workers feel reassured that they have career options if they take the risk to move across the country or the world for a job in Calgary.
Smith and Gondek both highlighted that the city’s history as an oil and gas hub, and its ample supply of talented workers in the energy sector who have transferrable skills.
The transition to clean energy and related questions about the future of work loom large in Canada’s oil-producing provinces, and Gondek said “the re-skilling world is quite significant in Calgary.”
Part of her duties as mayor also involve talking with oil and gas investors and making the case that they give money to the tech industry in order to help those fossil fuel companies transition to more sustainable operations.
It can be hard to convince people to give money to new technologies, Gondek said, but she sees it as part of her job to spread her message to the broader business and financing community that tech is the future.
“They don’t even see the gold mine they have in front of them,” she said.