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Category: Hicks on Biz columns from The Edmonton Sun

Hicks on Biz columns from The Edmonton Sun

Edmonton doesn't exist?! Hicks on Biz, originally published Edmonton Sun, August 17, 2012

By Graham HicksIt’s an annual insult.Every year around this time, the Economist Intelligence Unit’s releases its report on the world’s most livable cities with much fanfare. The Economist is a leading international news and business magazine.Every year, Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto make it in the Top 10. This year, Montreal was the only other Canadian city included, coming in at 16th.No Edmonton.A few years back, tired of this slight, I asked the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation why we didn’t rate, even though Edmonton and Calgary come out neck-and-neck in any survey of Canada’s livable cities.The answer, finally dug out of the Economist people, was that since Calgary and Edmonton were in such close proximity, only one needed to be scrutinized, and it was going to be Calgary.We were not even considered for the list! In the eyes of the authors of this prestigious survey, Edmonton does not exist.There’s an argument for not worrying about lack of recognition – why fret over how others see us, when we ... Read the rest of entry »

Defending fossil fuels from Toronto attack: Hicks on Biz originally published Edmonton Sun, Aug. 11, 2012

By Graham HicksMy cousin’s husband looked as me as if I was just what he thought I was — an right-wing, oil-snortin’ Alberta redneck.“Don’t tell me about how good fossil fuels are,” growled the Torontonian. “I grew up breathing (fossil-fuel) pollution that drifted over from Detroit and Chicago. I’m done with that stuff.”I wouldn’t worry if said husband had no influence.But he’s a top Canadian architect who designs energy-efficient office towers … and he didn’t want to even hear about the greening of fossil fuels!This deep, stubborn, near-hatred of the cheapest, most efficient and abundant energy source in the world is irrational, but is deeply engrained in the mindset of the chattering classes.Yet the exact opposite is true.Thanks to the power of new technology, Alberta’s hydro-carbon energy industry is cleaning up its act at a breath-taking pace.Energy produced from the burning of oil and natural gas is fast becoming environmentally competitive, at a much cheaper cost, with alternative energy sources like so ... Read the rest of entry »

Oil's not well in Alberta: Hicks on Biz originally published in Edmonton Sun Aug. 4, 2012

We’ve been dangerously smug.Our American friends are buried in debt, our European allies are gasping for financial air.Cash-rich China, still buying up our oil industry without blinking an eye, is facing an economic slowdown.Our cousins down east are finding jobs harder and harder to come by.But we Albertans have laughed off economic hardship.We have been immune to the world-wide economic misery of the past four years.Thanks to our beautiful, sticky, bullet-proof oil.Oil pouring out of the oilsands, oil miraculously flowing from once-dry oil wells thanks to new technology.While everything else seemed to fall in value these past few years, oil held up.Oil, refined into gasoline and diesel, remained the world's energy of choice for transportation.Oil has stayed on either side of $100 a barrel for several years now.Brace yourselves.The party, muted as it is, may soon be over.Oil has dropped recently from that $100 benchmark down to its latest price of $88, after falling under $80 at the end of June.Hundreds of e ... Read the rest of entry »

How to keep the Edmonton Indy alive: Hicks on Biz column originally published Edmonton Sun, July 28, 2012

The Edmonton Indy just had its eighth birthday.That’s right. Though it’s been a bumpy road, the race has never not been held since Greg Macdonald (now back in the outdoor advertising business) persuaded Champ Car to put Edmonton back on the car-racing map in 2005.Through near-bankruptcies, forced changes in ownership, city subsidies and crisis after crisis, this race has never missed a beat.Click here to check out our Indy section for a wrap of all the action.There was a bit of tizzy after last week’s race, when race producer/owner Francoise Dumontier of Octane Motorsports suggested Octane needed more business support and better attendance before it would consider extending its agreement with IndyCar and the city (as landlord) beyond 2013.While there are challenges and a few potholes to be filled, there’s no reason for doom and gloom.In fact, the Edmonton Indy’s odds of not only surviving but prospering into the long-term are better than ever.The IndyCar league doesn’t release race attendance numbers. Octane ... Read the rest of entry »

Power struggle - why the black-outs: Hicks on Biz in the Edmonton Sun, July 14, 2012

Blame it on the lack of wind, or blame it on the inherent weakness of Alberta’s deregulated power system.Blaming Monday’s rolling power black-outs, on the hottest day of the year, on the lack of wind is a bit of fun.But the deeper reality is the black-outs are the result of an entire electrical system that needs fixing.The wind argument first.If Alberta’s electricity producers were not so dependent on wind power, there’d have been no need for the rolling blackouts.Seven per cent of Alberta’s power-producing capacity comes from wind-powered turbines. We’re a “leader” in wind power, primarily because of the wind corridors of Southern Alberta. Lethbridge isn’t called the Windy City for nothing.But on Monday, the great weakness of wind power was exposed.No wind.The Alberta Electrical System Operator (AESO), the folks who are supposed to ensure electricity is flowing nice and evenly all over the province, want to have 7% more power available than is being consumed, especially during peak periods.With no wind, most ... Read the rest of entry »

Tech industry third most valuable in Alberta: Hicks on Biz column in Edmonton Sun June 9, 2012

It’s the giant nobody knows about.The gorilla in Edmonton’s garage, our invisible backbone.ICT – standing for “Information Computing Technology” has now, its advocates suggest, passed forestry as the third largest industry (by sales) in Alberta, after energy and agriculture.According to the industry association, 5,500 ICT companies in Alberta in 2010 produced $10 billion in revenues.Of those 5,500, the Alberta ICT Industry Association outgoing chair Tom Ogaranko suggests 33% to 40% are in Edmonton and region.Information – solid, reliable data, mountains of it, with the computing tools to properly analyse it – is the competitive edge of the 21st century business world. He who has the most computing power and the best analytics wins.Yet this industry is hard to find. There’s no ICT Tower, no ICT industrial zone.Geeks in front of computers are everywhere, but nowhere.Some of the biggest companies have the tiniest south side offices. Their people work as contracted “systems integrators” alongside provincial gover ... Read the rest of entry »

City's solar-power subsidy suggestions are absurd: Hicks on Biz column in the Edmonton Sun June 1, 2012

My eyes nearly popped out of my head. I could not believe what I was reading. The city-appointed Renewable Energy Task Force, in its preliminary report to Edmonton City Council’s Executive Committee, is suggesting the city subsidize alternative energy sources – mainly residential photovoltaic (solar) panels – to the tune of $83 million over five years! The task force chairman’s reported rationalization, that conventional energy (oil, coal, natural gas) had been using the environment as a “free sewer” all these years, and “they don’t pay for that.” If you couldn’t figure out the bias of the members of this task force beforehand, you sure can now. Big Oil and Big Energy is bad, bad, bad. Wind power and solar energy is good, good, good. I have a great idea as to how the city can save $83 million over the next five years. Ignore the rubbish in this report! Don’t get me wrong. The entire world wants to be as green as green ca ... Read the rest of entry »

Quesnell construction quagmire: Hicks on Biz column, originally in Edmonton Sun May 25, 2012

It wasn’t quite a “I told you so” when Quesnell Bridge contractor ConCreate went bankrupt some weeks ago. But the folks at another major construction firm had an office pool going, taking bets on how far behind schedule the rehabilitation and widening of the massive Whitemud Drive bridge across the North Saskatchewan River would be. The worst-case bettors won. After massive pressure from the city, ConCreate finished the bridgework in November 2011, a year behind schedule. Four months later, the company went bankrupt. “A year behind schedule!” exclaims another bridge expert, whose company also lost the Quesnell contract to ConCreate. “Just imagine the value of drivers’ time, waiting to cross the bridge. Even at a loss of a minute a day, over 365 days, times 145,000 drivers, earning an average $20 an hour each.” Which is about $18 million. The $64,000 question — actually $10 million in contested costs with the now-bankrupt company’s b ... Read the rest of entry »

The business of the Oil Kings: Hicks on Biz column published in Edmonton Sun May 19, 2012

It's a peculiar business, this major junior hockey. After toiling in relative obscurity for five years, the Edmonton Oil Kings have made it to the Canadian Hockey League finals. But are they playing home games in a sold-out Rexall Place? Nope. The Memorial Cup finals consists of a four-team tournament, the play-off champions of the Western, Ontario and Quebec hockey leagues plus the host team. It's all happening in Shawinigan, Quebec. Each major junior hockey team is a business in which the stars — the best 16-to-20 year-old hockey players in the country other than those in the NHL — do not get paid. Their expenses are covered. They receive a weekly allowance, from a rookie's $100 to between $300 to $400 for three "over-age" 20-year-olds. I'm not aware of any other team sport in North America where for-profit businesses are built around teenage athletes. A third-world child labour activist could argue that major junior hockey club owners exploit children. But they wouldn't ... Read the rest of entry »

Is housing the homeless a good investment? Hicks on Biz column originally published in Edmonton Sun, Sat. May 12, 2012

It’s a hopeless economic proposition to prove or debunk.  That the $15 million spent in 2011, to house and support 1,789 formerly homeless Edmontonians within an umbrella of complementary social programs coordinated by The Edmonton Homeless Commission, is money well spent. The idea of this column was to look at the cost/benefit ratio of that $15 million not through compassionate eyes (for who can argue with any social program that relieves the misery, loneliness, mental and physical pain of those reduced to having no place to call home) but through practical eyes. In the third year of its 10 year mandate from city hall to end homelessness in Edmonton, the Homeless Commission announced last week that, over three years, 1,789 individuals who were once homeless are now housed. The “cost avoidance” argument can be easily proved. – before and after arguments are shut-and-dried. The newly housed, with the right social supports, do cost much less for emergency room use, ambulances, incar ... Read the rest of entry »