Growing On Up

When the new Stantec tower was announced and most people gasped at the concept of a 62 floor tower in downtown Edmonton, Darren Durstling from WAM Development Group beautifully stated, “Just to give perspective, our lowest floor of residential starts where the Pearl ends.” … “We’re not competing with existing condominium products on the market, we’re introducing an entirely new echelon that the city has never seen.”

Edmonton’s growin’ on up.

When I went to Toronto last week to meet with Brad J. Lamb, aka the Condo King, who is launching Jasper House on Jasper & 106th Street behind the Boston Pizza, he eloquently stated, “We’re bringing something brand new to the Edmonton market, a 36-story, 260 unit high-design development where average unit sizes will be 725 sqft. We’re introducing a vibrant mixed-use concept at street level that will be new for some, but very familiar to many who travel to other major metropolitan centers.”

Edmonton’s growin’ on up.

What’s fantastic about these and other developments underway in the downtown core, is the fact that we are shedding the era of stamp-it-out condo kits and bringing a wide variety of choice to the marketplace. Some appeal to our growing student population. Some appeal to retirees. Some to empty-nesters. Some to singles. Some to investors. But together they bring density to the downtown core and embrace a culture of diversity that makes Edmonton so welcoming.

Speaking of investors, remember that each project represents an opportunity for Edmontonians to get involved, I’ve seen pricing for some of these new products ranging from $300K to $3M which creates investment opportunities for some people out there to actually invest in something that they can drive by every day.

So over the coming months, keep your eye out for open houses and information sessions. They’re fun nights out that get you aware of what’s happening in your downtown. Brad J. Lamb is launching his Jasper House project on Thursday night. I’m sure he’d welcome some of you interested people (see: JasperHouseCondos) for information and contact information) at the Art Gallery from 7pm-9pm for the launch.


Drunk on Dependence

There’s nothing like a good market meltdown and commodity collapse to get people talking about our economic stability. Oh wait, we’re not talking about it … at least not yet.

Six years ago, the price of oil went from $140 to $40 in six months. We seem stunned and aghast when our budget forecasts didn’t materialize, although history shows that predicting the price of oil is harder than predicting a winning lottery number. Blame it on a Bitumen Bubble. Blame it on the Middle East. Blame it on the USA commercializing our fracking technologies. Blame it on our lack of diversification. Blame it on us being landlocked. Blame it on our economists. Blame it on whoever or whatever you want.

I blame our budget instability squarely on our dependence on resource royalties, our unstable revenue model and our inability to plan properly for the future.

Yes, the future. Our current taxation policy is punishing future generations … the generation who will look back on our era and ask, “Grandpa, do you think it was smart to spend all the non-renewable resource revenues on yourselves every year, without asking people to pay for things they were using?”

To which I will likely respond, “Hey, it was a really good party until the free booze ran out. In fact, we invited all our friends from other provinces to the party and didn’t charge them either. But the liquor cabinet’s bare now, so why don’t you get to work and start replenishing it? ‘Cause your grandpa needs another drink … Remember who built this great province, dammit!”

Over the past two years we have had two economic summits where some of the best and brightest had the courage to call for stability in our revenue line. At the same time, Jack Mintz presented a revenue-neutral plan to eliminate personal income tax for 70% of Albertans and lower corporate taxes to the lowest in Canada, while implementing an 8% consumption (sales) tax. The Alberta Advantage was being talked about. The Alberta Advantage was almost within grasp.

Shhh … crickets.

How do you legislate a balanced budget without control over your revenue line? How do you provide long-term predictable funding for schools, universities, hospitals and municipalities without a long-term predictable revenue model?

It’s time to slay the dragon. It’s time to lose the historical pride of “we’re the only province without a sales tax” and start managing the province for our future generations.

Or do we not need to worry about them?

“Ahhh, don’t worry, oil at $80 is simply a dip. It’ll come back? Hey Boy, get over here and pour your old granddad another drink, dammit.”

The 200 Year Curse

Curse of Abundance
Many people believe we live in a world of abundance.
I believe abundance is a temporary state.

“The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations from the beginning of history has been about 200 years. During those 200 years, these nations always progressed through the following sequence: From bondage to spiritual faith; From spiritual faith to great courage; From courage to freedom; From freedom to abundance; From abundance to selfishness; From selfishness to complacency; From complacency to apathy; From apathy to fear; From fear to dependence; From dependence back into bondage.”
– Alexander Fraser Tytler or Henning W. Prentis, Jr. (unverified)

Curse of Democracy
Many people find history boring.
I find historical cycles highly fascinating and strangely predictable.

“Democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship.”
– Alexander Fraser Tytler or Henning W. Prentis Jr. (unverified)

Strength Become Weakness

Great companies evolve. Great people evolve. Great institutions evolve. Apple Computer has evolved. James Bond has evolved. LEGO has evolved. Bill Clinton has evolved. Hell, even Earls Restaurant has evolved.

Good organizations are built on strengths, but great organizations understand that those very strengths soon become their weakness, and they need to evolve in order to get to the next stage of growth.

Are cities any different? Let’s look at Edmonton.

Strength: a humble city of entrepreneurially thinking people and quietly profitable businesses that rally around any community initiative and provide anonymous donations to capital campaigns.

And …

Weakness: a humble city of entrepreneurially thinking people and quietly profitable businesses that rally around any community initiative and provide anonymous donations to capital campaigns … that doesn’t like to bring about any overt attention to its successes, yet wants to change its external image and become a destination for new businesses, residents, tourists and investment.

Yikes!! Could Edmonton’s humility be getting in the way of achieving its next stage of success? Does Edmonton and Edmonton-based firms truly understand marketing? Are Edmontonians ready to move from introvert to extrovert?

I suggest that we collectively need to invest in marketing in order to jump to the next curve … and by collectively invest, I mean starting with a serious look at our individual marketing budgets and ask the following questions:

• Are you spending a minimum of 1% of revenues on marketing (marketing, not sales)?
• Are your events held in public places and considered remarkable (worth remarking about)?
• How many stories in the press/media do you get every year (telling your story)?
• How much, and in what, are you investing to recruit new employees (and how many)?
• How do you celebrate your philanthropy to build your brand (community marketing)?

These questions are tough to answer for many Edmonton-based organizations, and will be the topic for subsequent blogs over the next month. This is a topic that is critical to our collective success, as the Edmonton story is simply an aggregate of our individual stories … corporate, institutional, personal, community or charitable. There are many things that we can do individual level, and there are many things we can do in the collective.

But be prepared to become more extroverted. We all need you to be.

Arrogance + Hypocrisy

When I was growing up, I spent many afternoons drinking Turkish tea with one of my mentors – a great doctor and Muslim leader from our community – who gave me lasting gifts with every conversation. We always discussed politics and religion and leadership … the very stuff we are told never to talk about … until the pot of tea was emptied … and then we would brew another pot and talk some more.

Mostly, I just listened.

“What is the worst combination of sins?” I remember asking.

After great contemplation, a long sip of tea … and then another … the wise elder leaned forward and whispered two words: “Arrogance and Hypocrisy.”

Long sip …

Five years ago, filmmaker and environmentalist James Cameron came to Ft. McMurray to observe the oil sands and made some public comments that came from a place of ignorance and ambition … another ruthless combination. Knowing little about the history, the geology or the science, the Hollywood director flew in on his private jet and aggrandized the unearthly degradation that was fueling the very things that heated his expansive home, built his movie studios and powered his luxurious choices of transportation … arrogance plus hypocrisy at its finest.

Some five years later, the oil sands now attracts withering celebrity icons on their personal “quests for relevance.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Neil Young, Robert Redford, Daryl Hanna (how she is deserving to be on any list?) have all graced us with their presence, their pontifications, and their self-importance … serving out the dangerous cocktail … a double shot of arrogance with a twist of hypocrisy.

But sometimes the world surprises you.

Last week I was in Montreal and had the opportunity to hear James Cameron being interviewed by George Stroumboulopoulos. I braced myself when the question from the audience inquired about his latest environmental crusade. However, after five years of fact-based research and a boat-load of humility, this is how James Cameron answered the question:

“What I have learned is that 19.5% of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and greenhouse effect is caused by animal agriculture, which is more than the entire transportation sectors put together … all cars, trucks, planes, ships … everywhere. So with a simple food choice, we can basically switch off global warming. Now, what are the chances of people suddenly deciding not to eat meat and dairy? Probably pretty slim. But it is possible … as opposed to it is not possible to switch the entire energy and transportation grid to alternatives in one day.” James Cameron then went on with great humility to acknowledge some of his own past hypocrisies in his use of energy products and how his crusade has shifted from one of finger-pointing and condemnation to one of leadership through personal action.

James Cameron sipped some Turkish tea.

Now, I’m sure James Cameron would still like us to reduce our energy footprint. But what I was impressed with is ability to sit quietly and reflect, and to recognize that the supply of energy is not the problem in a world with insatiable human demand. Human demand is the root cause, and that knows no geography.

“What if the billions of dollars spent on environmental activism was spent on education and marketing – the changing of human behavior?” I ask.

Hmmm …. that’s a question that requires another pot of Turkish tea.