Experts are telling us that we are in a “jobless recovery”, meaning that although the economy is beginning to improve at the top, regular people are not feeling it’s effects or getting jobs as a result.
Much of the problem is that many employers are making due with part-time workers rather than hiring full time employees. Part of this is due to cost cutting measures, but it’s mostly due to economic uncertainty – it’s easier to cut back part-time hours than lay off full time employees, and companies have become very cautious in the last two years. This creates a very bad situation for people who need full time work in order to support their families. People who are struggling don’t spend a lot, which keeps the local economy slow, in a vicious domino effect downward.
The Calgary Chamber of Commerce has estimated it may take up to 20 years to get the downtown back to it’s old self at the current rate of growth. We don’t have 20 years, so we need a plan NOW.
One thing that large companies are starting to do is to outsource functions that they used to do in-house. This means they need small and medium sized businesses to do their accounting, consulting, construction, IT, advertising, and other activities.This provides an opportunity for small businesses to get great work and to lower their overall risks by having multiple clients.
With a strong support system in place, large companies are able to move to Calgary and get the support they need to get up and running instantly. This is very attractive to companies that need to manage very complex systems and can be the catalyst that brings them to Calgary instead of some other city.
The key is to invest in our business support infrastructure – the small businesses and startups that keep things going in our city. These in turn helps other small businesses grow and attracts the big companies which fill the downtown, which lowers taxes, and creates even more jobs. Basically, create a domino effect upwards.
- This is not something that can be done solely by the City of Calgary – we will need to work together with our Provincial and Federal partners. Since they have other responsibilities and cities to care for, we will need to aggressively make sure Calgary is front and center in their minds (and budgets). I have a lot of experience working with multiple levels of government.
- We need to invest in projects that make Calgary attractive to business and delay or cancel projects that are not aligned with this goal, unless they are critical or have an important and immediate humanitarian effect (ie helping people who are homeless because of the lack of jobs).
- Any projects we do invest in should provide jobs for Calgarians, not people in other places, until we have fully recovered. It’s the same principle as when you are in an airplane emergency and you need to put your own mask on first – otherwise you won’t be able to help others. For example, the Greenline LRT project needs to go to Calgary-based companies hiring Calgary-based workers. The Greenline provides the transportation infrastructure businesses need for their workforce.
- We need to remove barriers to doing business in Calgary – permits need to be cheaper and easier to apply for, taxes need to be stable and as low as possible, and zoning needs to be innovative.
- We need to provide encouragement for small and medium enterprises (SME) – particularly those that meet the needs of key downtown tenants.
- As any good business owner knows, you need to invest money in the right areas, and save money everywhere else. We need to get the City of Calgary’s budget under control through a combination of cuts, improvements to productivity, increase the ability to self-serve, and smarter procurement.
We can do this, and it won’t take 20 years. But we need to start right now.