Better Business Through Diversity

Innovation and small business are cornerstones to Calgary's growth.

Alberta not only has the youngest median age amongst Canadian provinces at 36.5 years old, but Calgary also has the highest number of entrepreneurs on a per capita basis in the country. Although the city is known for housing the head offices of major energy companies, in actuality about 94% of Calgary’s businesses employ 50 or fewer staff members. More than 16% of all workers in Calgary are self-employed.

Just as the city’s population has become more diverse through strong net migration over the years, so too has our economy diversified, moving from a dependence on the energy sector to a wide variety of tech innovation, small businesses and home businesses. And just as increased demographic diversity influences development and design in Calgary, so too does a robust startup culture.

As observed by Richard Florida recently, technology based startups used to be concentrated in suburban basements and low-rise strip mall offices. However, venture capital dollars have started shifting to metropolitan areas, giving rise to “urban tech.”  Florida notes that this movement is an effect of three main trends: the greater access to tech talent in cities, the higher efficiency of dense urban cores and the fact that digital innovation requires less physical space than hardware innovation.

In addition, the prevalence of startups has sparked the rise of shared workspaces in cities. These “time share” offices, like The Commons in Calgary, grant entrepreneurs the benefits of a fully functional office space combined with the financial flexibility associated with not having to commit to a lease or rental. The opportunity to mix and network with other self-starters is another upside of shared workspaces.

Of course, startups will often seek other office options (and/or retail storefronts) as they grow and mature. That’s why it is critical to develop a variety of office space options, not to mention quality retail areas with access to residential or workday foot traffic. In addition, the dedicated home office has become an increasingly demanded design feature amongst homebuyers as single, young entrepreneurs grow from renters to owners.

Calgary isn’t just the youngest city in the country, it also boasts the most innovators and risk takers. The result is an economy marked by a sense of opportunity and optimism, as well as ever-improving variety and diversity. Calgary’s impressive mosaic of cultures, demographics and businesses must be reflected in a concurrent variety of small business-friendly property development and urban design.

July 3rd, 2015
Updated: September 14th, 2017

Calgary is an entrepreneur’s paradise. What are the implications for urban development and design in the city?