Who would have thought Texas would be on the up and up?
LIKE ALBERTA (the other former petroleum paradise), Texas has been clobbered by advocacy and the startling change in resource sector economics; changes inspired by a relentless tirade of California-style politics.
Who would have imagined a year or so ago that a bonanza of talent would exit the Golden State for opportunities in Texas?
That’s exactly what’s occurred.
Under the cover of COVID, tech entrepreneurs have pulled up stakes in San Francisco’s Bay Area to set up shop in places like Austin & Houston. Big players, too: Oracle, Apple, Google, Hewlett-Packard and Tesla.
Then there’s venture capital companies like Sequoia Capital — decamped from Silicon Valley, and the kind of California the legendary investment firm helped to make.
A mere decade ago, Alberta was booming and talent was poring into the place; today, we’re trying to figure out how to stem the brain drain. We can keep the oil in the ground (we’re never going to lose it), but intellectual capital — once gone — it’s unlikely to return anytime soon.
Frothy boosterism worked a hundred years ago when settlers were lured West by the prospect of cheap land & a free ride on the rails (although that didn’t turn out so well for everyone).
Rah-rah-boosterism today is a distraction. Period. Full stop.
Survival on the remote northern plain — with the eastern slopes of the Rockies on the horizon — forces one to never forget that the only people who truly care about us are us. COVID has reinforced that knowing.
THE LESSON FROM TEXAS
Alberta’s provincial government has designed a roadmap built on the Texan laissez-faire model:
- a new Alberta Investment Attraction Act, even a new Crown Corporation to attract energy, agriculture, and tourism businesses;
- a shiny new Minister of Jobs, Economy & Innovation;
- lower taxes, red-tape reduction, smarter immigration and public dollars poured into ‘innovation’.
As Alberta’s conventional petroleum industry risks being displaced by innovation, we haven’t given up on energy. Like Texas, we’ve attracted renewable energy projects; our electricity grid is upgraded to integrate wind & solar; and energy in our province is reliable & affordable.
As for the critique by advocacy that Alberta is a laggard on the climate change file: the province’s last coal plant will be shut down well ahead of the 2030 target.
A YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING?
And yet, Alberta’s beyond-petroleum narrative is anything but clear and forward-looking. Many outsiders believe we need to be schooled on how to reduce emissions because we won’t do it on our own.
So how on earth is Texas attracting the best brains, the brightest entrepreneurs, and the wealthy to move from once desirable locales, such as Redwood City, California to the state of Texas and Austin?
You might know that big earners are being chased out of California by the threat of a wealth tax. Yes, lower taxes and affordable real estate matter but these choices also have a lot to do with the quality-of-life accessible to their workers.
Employees (and their families) care about things like education for their kids, local culture, and the right kind of modern infrastructure.
Austin is a mecca for music lovers (and not just country & Americana fans). And while ‘for profit’ publishers of local news are barely surviving in the United States, online non-profits, including the Texas Tribune, are telling local stories with local voices. Ask a Brit why they stay in the U.K., in spite of all the wobbly politics, many mention Nobel prize winners and their kids’ ability to get a world-class education.
Fifty years ago, Premier Peter Lougheed & his team did an uncanny job of predicting the future. Investing in rural hospitals and regional colleges didn’t seem like a great idea to many in government during the 1990s but in a post-COVID world—with distributed networks of people working together across the province—Lougheed’s decisions look like genius. Add 5G networks and digital platforms to that mix, and places like Lethbridge, Athabasca, and Grande Prairie are very attractive.
Thanks to petroleum, Alberta has extensive infrastructure.
It’s time to update what we have for the 21st century. And that means digital & tech and not just bricks and mortar. We have room for upside here: According to the Royal Bank of Canada, 70% of the TSX Composite’s market value derives from intangibles; in America, 90% of the S&P 500’s value derives from intangibles.
THE LONGEST NIGHT OF THE YEAR
It’s the winter solstice, the darkest day of an incredibly dark year. It’s not surprising that Albertans feel that closed in & heavy weight of constraint.
And COVID be damned, there’s enterprise growing and unaccounted for in Alberta. Innovators designing fitness apps, in-house video and custom software. Researchers at the University of Calgary partnered with Caltech, Fermilab, AT&T, Harvard & NASA to build quantum internet technology.
Extraordinary talent in our province is figuring out ways to squeeze opportunity out of constraint. The smart money knows the darkest hour is right before the dawn.
This column is the consensus opinion of the writers Donna Kennedy-Glans & Don Hill. If you haven’t already, please subscribe to BEYOND POLARITY scroll down on your phone or tablet, or look to the right in the panel beside this post. Enter your email to FOLLOW, a wheel spins, hamsters get fed.