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Category: Hicks on Biz columns from The Edmonton Sun

Hicks on Biz columns from The Edmonton Sun

Hicks on Biz: No coal in Edmonton's stockings this year BY GRAHAM HICKS, first published Edmonton Sun, December 21, 2017

Santa, you have already given Edmonton the best gift we could have asked for. In 2017, Metro Edmonton somehow avoided slipping into recession. Business-wise, things weren’t great, but they weren’t bad … and way better than 2016 which was an annus horribilis year. The oil patch has learned to live with $50 a barrel oil (the benchmark $50 US for West Texas Intermediate). Of late, oil prices have looked positively balmy, floating up to $55 to $60. Residential construction surprisingly picked up strength as the year went by … pent-up demand, confidence on the part of home-buyers, more young couples with good jobs, readying for kids. As the Stantec and JW Marriott towers reach ever skyward, the Ice District construction employment has been a saving grace. The Valley LRT has also dented the unemployment ranks with that project now in its intensive construction phase. The impact, or lack thereof, of oil and gas on Northern Alberta’s economy is increasingly complex. ... Read the rest of entry »

Hicks on Biz: Mega-batteries are changing energy economics by GRAHAM HICKS, first published Edmonton Sun, December 8, 2017

Is it possible that the biggest challenge to the economics of wind and solar renewable energy is about to be overcome? Missing from the equation, up until this point, have been dependable, last-lasting, environmentally acceptable mega-batteries. Wind farms are great in theory – harnessing the wind, no carbon emissions, etc. etc. But the costs go crazy when the wind doesn’t blow. Mother Nature doesn’t care about when mankind needs that power – like on the coldest and hottest days of the years. But if there were mega-batteries alongside those wind farms, storing wind energy when it was plentiful, supplying it to the grid when the wind died down … now we’re talking. It’s been a pipe dream, until now. Maybe it’s just Elon Musk’s great big mouth, but his electric car/renewable energy/battery company Tesla may have done the economically impossible. Tesla has just installed the world’s biggest lithium-ion battery (actually banks and banks of battery ... Read the rest of entry »

Hicks on Biz: How to Love Our Tourists by GRAHAM HICKS, first published Edmonton Sun, December 1, 2017

While my wife Maria is on a volunteer mission in Africa, before our Rome rendezvous,  I am spending five days hiking in Italy on the famous Amalfi Coast, in the mountains that cascade down to the Mediterranean Sea just south of Naples. I am a pure tourist – I don’t speak the language and I’m not a shopper, but I’m pumping money into the local economy by staying at a bed ‘n’ breakfast, eating out, using local transportation, drinking the local wines … Tourism is something our Edmonton economic developers constantly talk about. In the years to come, especially if the Indigenous People’s Experience being created at Fort Edmonton Park lives up to its potential as a destination tourist attraction, we  might see more tourists  than the trickle of visiting relatives and friends who drop in on our summer festivals while camping in the guest bedroom. What can be learned from this part of Italy, where tourism utterly dominates the local economy an ... Read the rest of entry »

Hicks on Biz: Making public transit work in Edmonton by GRAHAM HICKS, first published Edmonton Sun: November 23, 2017

Good on Edmonton Coun. Andrew Knack for sticking to his guns, and to the new city council for coming to its senses. Last July, in a vote that made no sense, the pre-election city council defeated a relatively innocent motion from Knack: That the city look at new ways of improving public transit … including private-public partnerships, ride-sharing, driverless cars and Light Road Transit – trains on tires that could run on dedicated roadways.  The notion – just to do some research, just to have a look around — was defeated in a tie vote, with dissenting councillors bowing to union pressure, or their own ideological beliefs. Thanks to you, dear voters in October’s municipal election, our new city council is a more practical bunch. Knack brought his idea back after the election. This time it passed by a healthy nine to four vote. City employees (or consultants) will check out best practices around the world to see if we can improve on the abysmal fact that only 13% ... Read the rest of entry »

Hicks on Biz: No more white elephants, Edmonton! by GRAHAM HICKS, first published Edmonton Sun, November 17, 2017

There’s a sinking feeling in the city’s development community, worry that the mighty “aspirational” Blatchford Lands – the City of Edmonton’s 540-acre redevelopment of the now-closed Municipal Airport – will be yet another white elephant. A white elephant: When a big project starts with the best of intentions and an optimistic budget, but ends up taking twice as long, costing twice as much, and delivering a fraction of what was promised. Blatchford started off as a city council dream. So much open land, so close to downtown, could be used to show the world how eco-sensitive Edmonton was. Blatchford is being marketed as a 30,000-resident neighbourhood with the very latest in environmental technologies, renewable energy, lovely lakes and paddle boats, no cars, lots of bikes – so attractive that thousands of families will pay premium prices to purchase brand-new eco-homes in this super-eco-neighbourhood that’s far away from the river valley but very close ... Read the rest of entry »

Hicks on Biz: Is Edmonton headed for an economic rebound? By GRAHAM HICKS, FIRST PUBLISHED EDMONTON SUN November 10, 2017

One really shouldn’t be so foolish as to predict Edmonton’s economy. It’s like predicting how the Oilers will do. Who, six months ago, would have predicted our hockey team’s current dire straits? This column has been all gloom and doom on the future of Edmonton and Alberta’s economy. I’ve been arguing that the now-three-year crash in oil and gas prices shows no sign of let-up, that construction is slowing, that “carbon restraint” is clamping down on global demand for our oil and gas and at the same time raising Alberta’s electricity costs: That sky-rocketing provincial debt and a perceived anti-business bias from the current provincial government has scared off investment in Alberta. Not a pretty picture. But in the past few weeks a flurry of economic forecasts are painting a more optimistic future – at least for 2018 and 2019. The basic theory seems to be that things have been so bad — a 3% drop in Alberta’s economic output ... Read the rest of entry »

Hicks on Biz: Save the downtown, the oilpatch and save us from city council BY GRAHAM HICKS, FIRST PUBLISHED EDMONTON SUN: November 2, 2017

Little stories that deserve to be bigger … save the downtown, the oil patch and clean coal, but  save us from city council and misleading marketing! DISPOSABLE DOWNTOWN? Do buildings now depreciate as fast as cars? In 1982, city council signed the death warrant on yet another historic Edmonton landmark. The historic Tegler Building came tumbling down so the Bank of Montreal (BMO) could construct a brand-new, glass-fronted regional headquarters in the heart of the downtown. The handsome, seven-story Tegler Building, with its brick exterior and Woolworth’s on the main floor, was a mere 70 years old. Judging from older office buildings in older cities, it had plenty of life left in it. Now the BMO building, only 33 years old (it opened in 1984), has a date with the wrecker’s ball. The bank has downsized into the next-door, brand-new Enbridge Tower. Regency Developments intends to tear down the BMO building and build a mixed-use high-rise on the site. The BMO building ... Read the rest of entry »

Hicks on Biz: Red October hasn’t happened…yet BY GRAHAM HICKS FIRST POSTED EDMONTON SUN: THURSDAY, OCTOBER 19, 2017

Happily, I’m on the hook to pay for a fancy dinner with my former boss John Caputo, now the Sun/Postmedia’s head of advertising for Western Canada. In June, Hicks on Biz predicted a serious financial downturn in Edmonton by the end of October, i.e. this month. Financial blood would be running on the street, I said, caused by the slowdown in the oilsands, the slowdown in all Northern Alberta construction and manufacturing, higher income and corporate taxes, minimum wage increases and the enormous debt being run up by this free-spending provincial government. It would all hit home, I said, with a sudden, thudding recession starting in October. Caputo, ever the optimist, took issue with the forecast. So we made a bet: A fine dinner, to be paid for by whoever was wrong. That was me. Hooray! Today, most credible economic forecasters – the Conference Board of Canada, Edmonton Chief Economist John Rose and others – are predicting a higher-than-average 4% growth this year ... Read the rest of entry »

Hicks on Biz: My platform if I ran for council BY GRAHAM HICKS FIRST POSTED EDMONTON SUN: THURSDAY, OCTOBER 05, 2017

If I were running for Edmonton’s city council on Oct. 16, this would be my back-to-basics platform. City council’s first responsibility should be to the taxpayer, not the frivolous tax-user. Cleanse city council of “progressive” multi-million-dollar vanity projects, such as over-built bike lanes (never has so much been spent on so few, with so little in return). Bring fiscal conservativism back in favour. How can city council save taxpayers’ money, not spend it? Property taxes only provide enough money to maintain public infrastructure (roads, bridges, parks), to provide excellent police, fire and transit services. Leave the funding of social services — culture, social housing, social programs, recreational programs, libraries, etc. — to the provincial government with its much broader tax base. I love the Edmonton Public Library, but it should be funded from the provincial purse. Aim for true carbon reduction. The purchase of new city buses, for instanc ... Read the rest of entry »

Hicks on biz: Cheers to Alberta's oilsands! BY GRAHAM HICKS FIRST POSTED EDMONTON SUN: FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 29, 2017

I once interviewed former Edmonton mayor Steve Mandel, just as he was considering running for mayor. It was a ho-hum interview, not much to remember. But he made one point I will never forget. “Doesn’t matter how much the city’s economy grows,” he said, using his hands to make a widening circle. “If there’s any contraction,” he said, bringing his hands closer together, “no matter what, it’s going to hurt like hell.” No truer words have ever been said. Which is why most of us are mystified by the non-negotiable, end-of-fossil-fuel stance espoused by many in our midst. These environmental “progressives” are willing to risk a major drop in Alberta’s standard of living by ending our major industry … no matter how minimal its contribution to global warming may be. Here we are, celebrating 50 years since the opening of the first commercial oilsands mine in Fort McMurray. The Sun’s excellent six-part series on the oilsan ... Read the rest of entry »