Calgary - where business and people thrive
For this month’s city focus, we caught up with two business leaders from Calgary to find out why the city is an attractive place for industry – and individuals – to flourish.
Nav Dhunay is a Canadian tech entrepreneur and investor. He is the Co-founder and CEO of Imaginea Ai.
Clark Grue is CEO of the Calgary Convention Centre. He previously spoke to us about his role in the March edition of Business Chief Canada.
1) What brought you to Calgary?
Dhunay: “Calgary is a vibrant and diverse city that attracts big thinkers and entrepreneurs from around the world to start or grow a business. A young, highly-educated workforce is a catalyst for economic development.”
Grue: “I moved here with my family 20 years ago and we never imagined we would fall in love with the city – but in the end, it was a city of opportunity and had great amenities and programmes for our kids.”
2) What benefits does the city offer for businesses?
Grue: “Calgary offers many built-in incentives that are often overlooked: low taxation, Universal Health Care, an affordable world-class education system, an entrepreneurial ecosystem of support for business growth, excellent flight connections and a clean, healthy lifestyle. There are funding supports in place for many types of business that are innovative, clean and job creating.”
Dhunay: “As a whole, the province of Alberta offers the greatest subsidies for business. There is no provincial sales tax, no payroll tax, no healthcare premiums… there are lower personal income tax rates and the lowest fuel tax among provinces. Over 50% of those subsidies are through tax credits and the rest through grants and loans. If you're creating new products, developing new processes, or using new materials, you can be eligible to claim the Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) tax credit.
“In addition, in response to the current economic environment the City of Calgary established the ‘Opportunity Calgary Investment Fund’ as a tool to attract and support transformative investments in the city. The $100mn fund offers opportunities for private sector companies, non-profits and public institutions making transformative investments in Calgary that will be catalysts for economic growth, diversification, increased employment, and expansion of the property tax assessment base.”
3) What makes Calgary so vibrant and unique?
Grue: “Youth. Innovation is driven by young, ambitious people and Calgary is full of bright young professional minds. With one of the lowest average ages of a major city in Canada (36.8), Calgary is a place where people come for career opportunities and to start new businesses.
“Calgary has, above all, been built by pioneers – people who have come to the city to make their fortune… and many have. This has created a culture of entrepreneurialism and community partnership. Both built on pioneering traits: building businesses and community spirit. This led to hosting the 1988 Winter Olympics and potentially repeating this honour in 2026. This spirit creates a culture of volunteerism second to none.”
Dhunay: “Nestled in the base of the Rocky Mountains, there's an undeniable spark and energy that Calgary offers. The city has all the benefits of a large metropolitan and sophisticated centre in a relaxed and friendly lifestyle. The community is rich in arts, culture, entertainment, and leisure activities.
Calgarians embody the true spirit of Western hospitality. Our city comes together in good times and times of tragedy. We help our neighbours when the city flooded in 2013, we volunteer, and we get involved in helping our communities. Over 75% the Canadian athletes involved in the latest Winter Olympics used the Calgary WinSport facilities, which have benefited 100 Canadian Winter Olympic medallists since 1988.”
4) What businesses and sectors thrive in the city?
Grue: “Calgary is Canada's second-largest headquarter location. All major Canadian energy companies are headquartered here, as are the many major agriculture, finance and logistics firms. Calgary was built on agriculture; ranching and farming. This base was then supported by the transportation sector (rail and air) followed by the banking and insurance industries. Later in is history, Calgary became an international energy hub. This was driven by a rich resource base and has evolved into the renewable and clean energy space. All of these industries are supported by an excellent education sector and technology community.”
Duhnay: “Calgary was built on sectors that sustain us: we feed the world (agriculture), we heat your homes and fuel your car (energy) and we are a hub for getting you consumer goods (T&L). Being situated next to some of the largest oil and gas reserves in the world, the majority of the top corporations in Alberta, specifically in Calgary, are energy-related. In fact, 70 of Calgary’s 134 top head offices are categorised as energy companies.
“These companies enjoy access to Calgary’s highly educated workforce with the second-highest level of educational attainment of any city in Canada; a low cost of doing business; and an exceptional quality of life.”
5) How is industry in Calgary changing?
Duhnay: “The oil and gas sector may have softened in the past few years, but the people in our city have not. With the abundance of entrepreneurs and tech talent, the number of high-tech startups in Calgary has exploded. These range from leading-edge internet of things (IoT) manufacturing to drone development, wearables, blockchain, and autonomous vehicles operated by advanced artificial intelligence.”
Grue: “Most of the change that has happened in Calgary's economy in recent years has been around the application of technology and innovation to reduce the environmental footprint of energy extraction. This has led to the birth of companies focused on AI, IoT and blockchain applications. In addition to this, the convention business is growing as Calgary becomes a strategic location to connect with growing businesses and leaders in innovation.”