HicksBiz Blog

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 »

Lazia is affordable quality: Weekly Dish column published in Edmonton Sun June 6, 2012

Lazia10200 102 Ave. (Edmonton City Centre West) 780 990 0188 Lazia.caLunch and dinner, 7 days a week Food: 3.75 of 5 starsAmbience: 3 of 5 starsService: 3.5 of 5 stars Dinner for two: Basic, $30; loaded, $50 It’s no wonder that Lazia – in the downtown Edmonton City Centre Mall, across from the YMCA – is a busy place.It’s clean, it’s attractive, it’s fast if time is of the essence.And for the food quality and attention to detail, Lazia is remarkably inexpensive.If something on the 60-item menu (excluding desserts) does not call out to you, then you must be the pickiest eater alive.Lazia’s menu has a split personality. One face is Canadian cuisine, the other Canadianized Asian.The “small plates” are primarily Asian and quite delicious. But unlike most Vietnamese or Thai restaurants, presentation is a priority. The five fat gyoza (Japanese dumplings), for instance, are presented on pressed seaweed for visual effect with a line of sweet chili for decoration and taste, and a light soy dipping sauce.On the Lazia me ... 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 »

Worth the gamble: Weekly Dish review of Sage Restaurant, published in Edmonton Sun May 29, 2012

Sage at the River Cree Resort & Casino 300 East Lapotac Blvd. (Whitemud Drive and Winterburn Road) Enoch, AB. 780 484 2121 www.rivercreeresort.com/dining evenings only, closed on Monday Food: 4 of 5 stars Ambience: 3.5 of 5 stars Service: 4 of 5 stars Dinner for two (without beverages): Basic, $85; fully loaded, $140 Reassurement can be a wonderful thing. It's reassuring to report, despite reports of financial turmoil, that life goes on at the Enoch Cree First Nation's River Cree Resort & Casino just outside the city. It's more reassuring, from a fine-dining point of view, to tell you the casino's high-end Sage Restaurant remains one of Edmonton's top restaurants. You enter Sage from inside the casino. For the non-gambler, the approach around the perimeter of the casino's VLT zone is daunting. All that ambient noise and non-stop electronic bell ringing is like West Edmonton Mall on steroids. But as you cross the glass-floored entrance into Sage, all is ... 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 »

Nefeli's is classic Italian: Weekly Dish column Edmonton Sun May 22, 2012

In praise of classicism. Nefeli’s – way up in the northeast, in a new strip mall bordering the storm-lake communities north of 153rd Avenue – is all about old-fashioned, classic, Italian food. As it should be. Operating partner Joe Jamal Eddine is happily old-school, a career maître d' who understands customer retention is as much about hospitality as it’s about good food. Joe’s curriculum vitae goes back 25 years in Edmonton. He was maître d’ at the downtown Pazzo Pazzo for many years before striking out to do his own entrepreneurial thing at Nefeli’s with partner Chad Protasiewich. It’s only natural he has stayed with that which brought him to the dance, being traditional, delicious, plated Italian cuisine. You won’t find trendy at Nefeli’s (which means goddess of the clouds in Greek mythology).No wild pairings, no presentation of the month. Just fresh, creamy, bursting with flavour, traditional and formal Italian dishes. ... 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 »

Wildflower Grill in full bloom: Weekly Dish review originally published in Edmonton Sun May 15, 2012

Here’s the kicker. Not only is the Wildflower Grill a contender as the top restaurant in town. Not only is the Wildflower Grill, south of Jasper on 107 Street, a pleasure to dine in. Not only does executive chef Nathan Bye insist on nothing but the best leaving his kitchen. It doesn’t have to be expensive! There’s a huge surprise on the Wildflower Grill’s menu. It’s called “lighter fare” in between the “small bites” and the “mains.” Lighter Fare offers 12 delicious, succulent, beautifully cooked dishes ranging in price from $12 to $18. They are perfect for lighter appetites — i.e. what we should all eat if we stayed within a daily calorie intake that doesn’t encourage the gaining of a pound a month. OK, as a reviewer, I had to try a “main” — the mesquite grilled salmon medallions at $36 to follow my beef carpaccio appetizer. The ladies opted for the lighter fare — a Canadian West ... 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 »

Manor Bistro is as good as ever: Graham Hicks Weekly Dish review, originally published Edmonton Sun, Wed. May 9, 2012

It’s an unjust world. Big box restaurants have massive marketing budgets for bland, warmed-up frozen food. The best restaurants in Edmonton — small and intimate, with superb chefs using local suppliers — can’t compete marketing-wise. Once past the trendy new restaurant stage, they can’t afford the advertising to stay top-of-mind. Pity. It’s the independents who deliver the very best dining that Edmonton has to offer. The Manor Bistro (originally the Manor Café) is almost 20 years old. The food, the ambience, the entire dining experience is as good, if not better, than ever. You cannot beat The Manor for location. In a former stately old home where 125 Street turns into an elm-lined lane south of Stony Plain Road, the main floor has been opened up to accommodate about 10 dining tables, the upstairs rooms converted into three popular group dining areas. The patio is drenched in dappled sunlight. The Manor has such longevity that chef/owner Cyrilles Koppert is ... Read the rest of entry »