After a few days of reflection on the recent Opportunities North conference held by the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce, there are a few major takeaways from the event. Before delving into those, it should be recognized that the organizers all did a wonderful job of facilitating an excellent exchange of ideas. The keynotes and speakers were all very interesting and contributed some amazing ideas and delivered inspiring messages.
I think the first, and perhaps most important, takeaway is the need for further collaboration between north and south, diverse cultural groups, and the private and public entities that serve these regions. There is an undeniable trend of growth underway, and the hidden treasure of the North will soon be revealed to the rest of the world, making now the time to make inroads to the region and connections with its people.
At the mayors’ panel discussion, the conversation was centred on respect and mutual benefit. Edmonton is already perceived as a gateway to the north, and with Royal Dutch Airlines flying direct from Europe to Edmonton (link), this perception is likely to grow even further. I was very pleased to learn of the excellent output from NAIT, which, according to one account, is training almost 95% of the skilled workers in the Yukon and NWT.
The need for truth and reconciliation between indigenous populations and the rest of Canada was also a theme for the conference. Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson’s understanding of the 94 recommendations is to be commended, and I have vowed to familiarize myself with the items outlined in the document (link). The acknowledgement of treaty lands, and the general degree of acknowledgement of an often overlooked past has become a great step ahead for the reparation of the fractured relationship at the core of Canada.
Another major takeaway is the growing appeal of tourism north of 60. The growing interest, spearheaded by an outstanding marketing campaign developed in the Northwest Territories (link), has increased tourism activity by over 300%. The development of this industry will lead to a lot of economic activity for both the North and Edmonton, as Edmonton will become a significant travel hub for those gearing up for their journey northwards.
Digital innovation and technological development are the defining elements of Edmonton’s new growth phase. From the support centres like Tec Edmonton and Start-up Edmonton, to the global leading Google DeepMind, Shopify and Aurora setting up base here, the region’s attractiveness is growing daily. This innovation is providing access to and from formerly isolated locations, and enabling new entrepreneurial ventures and e-commerce to take root and thrive.
All in all, the Opportunities North 2017 conference should go down as a 5-star success. Shortly after the conference wrapped up, the Alberta and NWT governments signed an MOU for further collaboration, placing an exclamation mark on the week’s activities.
As the needle of the compass faces north, so should we all. There is a lot of opportunity under all that ice.