CEOs and business leaders looking for ideas from Albertans to ‘design the decade’

The disruptive force of the 2015 oil price shock caused companies in oil and gas to have to adapt to operate in new conditions.

Startec Compression and Process is one such company, having to change its focus from just providing products to oil and gas companies to providing them for a broader market, including alternative energy producers.

“Whenever there’s that kind of economic pressure on a business, whether that is reduced pricing or challenges in how we do business, new ideas and new ways of doing business come forward,” CEO Kristi Cawthorn told Global News. “So I think that what we’re seeing is new ways of doing business are coming forward that reduce the cost of how we produce our products.

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“We’re also seeing a higher level of collaboration between people who have the innovations and people who, like us, can bring them to market and companies that will incorporate them.”

That’s the sort of collaboration and innovation that Cawthorn and a collection of other Alberta CEOs representing industries across the province are hoping to tap into with a new initiative to address the ongoing disruptions to Alberta’s economy.

“Any time markets are disrupted, there are opportunities, and I believe that we’re seeing that now,” Cawthorn said.

Dubbed “Design the Decade,” the initiative from the Business Council of Alberta (BCA) hopes to be both a vision and economic strategy for the province through 2030.

“There are many, many economic development strategies that typically happen at local or regional levels, but you don’t often see them at provincial or state levels,” BCA president Adam Legge told Global News. “And so we’ve taken that concept of a regional or local economic development strategy and inflated it to the provincial level, simply because we know that Alberta has had tremendous challenges in the past five, six years.

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“But we have tremendous opportunity.”

Part of the initiative involves soliciting the public for “big ideas” at the Design the Decade website.

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The BCA also plans to survey the public and host roundtables across the province. They’re also collecting feedback from chambers of commerce and economic development offices.

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“We’re engaging a host of subject matter experts,” Legge said. “We’re creating what’s called the Prosperity Advisory Council, which is going to be a blend of community leaders (and) subject matter experts in everything from the environment to labour markets to post-secondary education.

“They’ll help inform and buttress some of the areas that our CEOs — who are incredible business leaders, but we don’t all know everything.”

Cawthorn, along with 13 other CEOs from companies like Shell Canada, Cenovus, Enbridge, UFA and DynaLife, sits on the initiative’s task force.

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She doesn’t know what sort of ideas the public will come forward with, but she expects to see a few themes: “opportunity and energy to move forward.”

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“I think about how I see Alberta, how I see Albertans and our culture here, and, frankly, what makes me proud to be an Albertan, is that we’re inherently innovative and entrepreneurial, almost down to our DNA level,” Cawthorn said.

“And so I anticipate that we’re going to get lots of comments from Albertans about ways to move forward, that as we build those ideas upon one another, we can create a better vision for going forward.”

Legge said the initiative aims to put corporate support behind the ideas that come from citizens.

Cawthorn said it is also a way for business to support the province.

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“I think that means how do we as businesses promote our own fortunes, but also how do we look out for the future generations?” she said. “How do we look out for the populations that make up our province? How do we ensure that we’re getting the most out of our investments for ourselves and for employment and for families and for generally the social good?

“I believe that businesses do have a part to play in that.”

A full report of the submissions and findings is expected in early 2022, with an interim report expected in October.

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