Calgary aims to convince Vancouver’s tech talent that the grass is greener over the Alberta border

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      Those with a job in Vancouver’s tech sector can expect a more comfortable life than most.

      Since 2001, the number of Vancouver technology employees has rocketed by 49 percent. The average wage paid to tech workers is more than 84 percent higher than the provincial average of $46,000, and those salaries are growing at more than double the rate of typical B.C. job incomes. Office culture, too, has been praised, with local companies offering dogs in the workplace, Ping-Pong tables, and flexible workspaces.

      Despite that, there are a number of areas where the local industry could improve. For startups looking to secure their headquarters, downtown real estate is scarce and pricey. For potential employees, the cost of housing in Vancouver—particularly for those looking to start a family—can be prohibitive even on a tech-sector salary, and commutes can be frustratingly long.

      An Alberta nonprofit corporation, however, believes it has a solution to those issues.

      Since mid-December, the Yaletown neighbourhood has been hosting a big installation advertising the benefits of relocating to Calgary. The campaign—named “the grass is greener” and taking over the ground floor of the building at 1149 Hamilton Street—features multiple panels of Astroturf with the message that life is better on the other side of the Rockies. The display, organized by Calgary Economic Development, aims to show Vancouver that it has competition in the tech market.

      “[Vancouver is] a city where there is very little room for scaling, in terms of talent and real estate,” Robyn Bews, vice president of business development at Calgary Economic Development, tells the Georgia Straight on the line from her office in that city. “Meanwhile, on this side of the mountains, Calgary has undergone some significant structural changes in the past few years. We’ve seen the emancipation of some tremendous STEM talent in our city. We’re sitting with some of the highest levels of employment in the country, tremendous amounts of prime downtown real estate—all the things that people in the tech sector say that they desire, we have in Calgary.”

      The installation is not the city’s first attempt to woo Vancouver talent. Its appearance comes after Calgary Economic Development launched two events in October—a digital-transformation showcase and a tech-talent job fair—backed by appearances from the city’s mayor, Naheed Nenshi. The dates were part of a larger business-development strategy that includes the launch of a $100-million investment fund created to foster growth in targeted sectors of Calgary’s economy, to court professionals thinking of leaving Vancouver, and to attract businesses looking to expand.

      Calgary Economic Development believes that its tech industry would increase in size much more quickly if more people were aware of its merits.

      “Young people, and people with growing families, are finding Vancouver and Seattle particularly prohibitive,” Bews says. “We know that when people become familiar with Calgary, they will actually tell you that the grass is greener on this side of the mountains. I’d say we have a bit of an awareness problem, not a retention problem.”

      Much of Calgary Economic Development’s message focuses on the city’s low effective tax rate, its large number of head offices, the affordability of commercial real estate, and the innovation of companies already present in the region.

      After the organization’s last campaign, the city has already begun to sign up talent from Vancouver, and has seen local stalwarts like software business Clio open satellite offices in the area.

      “We’ve actually had a couple of companies say that they’ve made a number of job offers to people from the West Coast,” Bews says. “So it’s worked.”

      Kate Wilson is the technology editor at the Georgia Straight. Follow her on Twitter @KateWilsonSays