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Category: Hicks on Biz columns from The Edmonton Sun

Hicks on Biz columns from The Edmonton Sun

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 »

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 »