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Category: Hicks on Biz columns from The Edmonton Sun

Hicks on Biz columns from The Edmonton Sun

Hicks on Biz: Alberta doesn't need wind farms by GRAHAM HICKS, first published EDMONTON SUN March 9, 2018

By GRAHAM HICKS I have been to a wind farm, watched the blades on 80-metre-tall wind turbines turn lazily in the late-February sun. In a very gentle 5.4 km/h wind, 16 megawatts (MW) of electricity were being generated — wind converted to electricity at each tower, fed through underground cables to a substation, then fed into the provincial power grid. In that lazy wind at Capital Power’s Halkirk Wind Farm about 30 kilometres east of Stettler, 83 towers each generated 230 kilowatts (kW) of power ‑ enough to perhaps power my neighbourhood at that very moment. Halkirk is impressive — the 83 wind turbines scattered across 60 square kilometres of working farmland are so quiet (at least in low winds), so grey, so clean against the blue sky — dotting the landscape around the village of Halkirk like ghostly sentinels. The technology and know-how are all imported. The global wind-farm company Vestas Wind Systems, headquartered in Denmark, manufactures, assembles, maintains and ... Read the rest of entry »

Hicks on Biz: Alberta is no longer viable By GRAHAM HICKS, first published EDMONTON SUN, March 2, 2018

As the federal and provincial governments make it more difficult for the resource industry to get things done, there's less incentive for those companies to develop infrastructure in this province.Ian Kucerak / Ian Kucerak/Postmedia I’m doing my best not to be ultra-cynical. But put yourself in the position of a major petrochemical/energy company CEO, reading the recently released report of the Alberta government-appointed Energy Diversification Advisory Committee. It is entitled, Diversification, Not Decline: Adapting to the new energy reality. “Really?” the CEO is saying to him or herself as he/she flips the pages. “Really?  The Alberta and Canadian governments have been pummelling my industry since 2015 when the Liberals came to power in Ottawa and the New Democrats in Alberta. “We (the energy sector) were flattened by the 50% drop in oil prices at the end of 2014.  And, ever since,  your governments have been kicking us while we& ... Read the rest of entry »

Hicks on Biz: Desperation has not yet set in for Alberta's finances - by GRAHAM HICKS, first published Edmonton Sun, February 23, 2018

This gorilla is not hiding in the closet. It’s rampaging through the whole house, in the kitchen, the living room, in every bathroom. Since 2008, for 10 years (with one exception), the Alberta government has spent more money than it has taken in. The situation has gone from bad to worse. From $1 billion in the red in 2008, to $6 to $8 billion per year earlier in this decade, to $10 billion-plus in the last two years. The accumulated deficit – the total outstanding provincial debt – is expected to hit $45 billion this year. That’s close to what the Alberta government will spend in the entire upcoming 2018-19 fiscal year! Quebec and Ontario have drowned in debt for decades, but, hey, we’re catching up. On a debt-per-capita, Alberta will be at Quebec’s level by 2023, Ontario’s by 2024. We used to have oil and gas “non-renewable resource” royalties flowing in – $10 billion a year. Then came the Great Oil Price Crash of 2014. The governmen ... Read the rest of entry »

Hicks on Biz: Edmonton's Cowan Graphics weathers the economic storm - by GRAHAM HICKS, first published Edmonton Sun, February 16, 2018

By Graham Hicks Growing to becoming a major player in your industry … isn’t for the faint of heart. As this series of Hicks on Biz columns have shown, inherent disadvantages in growing non-oil/gas Edmonton manufacturing companies to regional, national or international proportions are usually off-set by advantages. But there’s one factor nobody can control. It’s called recession.   Ever since Blaine MacMillan took over Cowan Graphics, started by his uncle in 1945, he planned on growing the graphics company, which manufactures all kinds of large-scale advertising images. The huge Lexus ad covering the Edmonton International Airport administration building is made by Cowan.   The giant Wayne Gretzky photo at Rogers Place – made by Cowan.  Canada Post’s branding images on mail boxes across the country – produced and installed by Cowan. By 2008, MacMillan had 100% ownership of Cowan, having bought out remaining family shareholders. “By ... Read the rest of entry »

Hicks on Biz: Edmonton's economy cuts a diverse path By GRAHAM HICKS, first published Edmonton Sun, February 9, 2018

My eyes have been opened as never before. Having visited four manufacturing businesses in Edmonton that operate independently of the carbon-based energy (i.e. oil, gas, coal) sector, I can now envision a pragmatic, optimistic economic future for Edmonton in a world using less carbon fuels. All four leaders interviewed – Richard Meunier of RAM Elevators & Lifts, Denis Taschuk of Radient Technologies, Joe Makowecki of Heritage Frozen Foods (Cheemo Perogies), Chris Labossiere of Yardstick Testing – say Edmonton is a pretty good place to do business. But there’s a crying need for an overall, coordinated economic diversification strategy on the part of all governments operating in Alberta. File all those business failure excuses –  distance from markets, alleged over-taxation, skill shortages, lack of capital, over-regulation, socialists in power – in that round file marked G.   Doing business out of Edmonton, these leaders say, is no better, no w ... Read the rest of entry »

Hicks on Biz: Heritage Foods, Cheemo Perogies an Edmonton success story By GRAHAM HICKS, first published Edmonton Sun, February 2, 2018

This column is the fourth in a series looking at manufacturing companies in Edmonton that are unrelated to the oil patch. The provincial environment minister herself has clearly suggested Alberta should be preparing for a fossil-fuel free future. Which is a tall order. As ATB Financial economist Rob Roach points out, the $80 billion a year oil-and-gas business in Alberta is the equivalent of the entire Ontario manufacturing sector – in a province four times our size. Which also begs the question: Just how much manufacturing in Metro Edmonton now happens outside the oil/gas/petrochemical energy sector. What do those companies need to grow? Today, Hicks on Biz looks at the food-processing sector, as represented by Heritage Frozen Foods – best known through its premiere brand, Cheemo Perogies. When Walter Makowecki started making Cheemo perogies in 1972, nobody outside the Ukrainian-Canadian community knew what perogies – Ukrainian/Eastern European dumplings traditionall ... Read the rest of entry »

Hicks on Biz: Yardstick Testing and Training leading local IT sector By GRAHAM HICKS, first published Edmonton Sun, January 25, 2018

How is Edmonton doing in “diversifying” its manufacturing base, lessening our dependence — as so many politicians keep saying must be done — on industries based on oil and gas? This series of Hicks on Biz columns is an attempt to understand the size of the challenge. In previous and upcoming columns, I’ve visited Edmonton companies not directly tied to the fortunes of the oil patch, to find out the challenges and advantages of making and selling non-oil-related products out of Edmonton. Chris LaBoissiere, co-founder and CEO of the rapidly growing online testing and training company Yardstick, has long been an active business leader in Edmonton. He brings valuable perspective of the city’s information technology (IT) sector as a whole, and the challenges of growing Yardstick Testing and Training in particular. The company is a leader in the complex business of providing online training, testing and certification, especially for regulated businesses where safety a ... Read the rest of entry »

HICKS ON BIZ: Departing EEDC boss leaves a strong, positive legacy: By GRAHAM HICKS first published Edmonton Sun, January 15, 2018

Brad Ferguson, the boss of Edmonton’s  Edmonton Economic Development Corporation (EEDC), is stepping down at the end of March after five  years on the job. He can ride off with his head held high. The job is political. The head of EEDC,  a city/business economic development partnership, can pretty well define what he or she wants the job to be. Ferguson’s a marketing guy from head to toes.  He’s all about “image” and “branding” – all those intangible aspects of business regarded by many as unnecessary, or, at best, a necessary evil. But remember, marketing made a sugar and fizzy water drink called Coca Cola that did US$41.6 billion in sales in 2016. What Ferguson did in his five years – which is the average time on the job for his four predecessors  – was to find and define Edmonton’s soul. How he went about that major task was a classic illustration of what good – great – marketing is all about. ... Read the rest of entry »

Hicks on Biz: Who's making what in Edmonton? RAM Elevators & Lifts: By GRAHAM HICKS, first published: January 5, 2018, Edmonton Sun

How much business in Metro Edmonton happens outside the oil/gas/petrochemical energy sector? You’d think this would be an important statistic. “Diversification” comes up every time Mayor Don Iveson or Premier Rachel Notley show up at a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Say it often enough, and surely something will happen. The problem is nobody knows what they are talking about. In its definition of “manufacturing”, Statistics Canada includes everything to do with the processing of oil and gas, and the making of all products that supply the oil and gas extraction/processing sector. We stagger about in the dark, trying to find an illusive baseline upon which to measure the reality of manufacturing businesses in Edmonton that have nothing to do with the oil patch. For the next few weeks, Hicks on Biz will highlight interesting and diverse non-oil companies, how they started, grew and flourish in a town that traditionally draws its wealth from public sector employment and ... Read the rest of entry »

Hicks on Biz: Expecting a decent 2018 by GRAHAM HICKS, first published Edmonton Sun, Dec. 30, 2017

You have to be careful, sticking your head out of the foxhole to gaze out on 2018. The odds on said head being blown off are fairly alarming. Nobody ever gets this prediction game right. But, fingers crossed, luck being with us, global events giving us tailwinds, 2018 should be a reasonably decent year for business, employment and quality of life in northern Alberta (for our purposes, Edmonton and everything north of Edmonton). “Reasonably decent” is highly contextual.  For the province as a whole, the Alberta government’s forecasters are looking at a 2.5 per cent growth rate for 2018. Which will be less than the four per cent growth rate being left behind in 2017. Don’t forget three big factors. It’s terrific the economy did well this year, and will keep growing (hopefully) at 2.5% for 2018. But the previous two years were awful, a negative four per cent economic growth in 2015, and another negative four per cent growth in 2016. We have not caught up to ... Read the rest of entry »