Calgary has long been recognized as the energy capital of Canada, with its economy heavily reliant on the oil and gas industry. Major oil companies have their headquarters in Calgary, and the industry has provided high-paying jobs that have driven strong economic growth in the region. However, in recent years, Calgary’s economy has struggled with the decline in oil prices, pipeline capacity issues, and greater global emphasis on transitioning to renewable energy sources.
These pressures have led to major job losses, falling real estate prices, and rising office vacancies as energy companies have consolidated operations. With its core industry struggling, Calgary needs to diversify into sectors like financial services, transportation, logistics, tourism, and technology.
Leaders know the city must reduce its dependence on oil and gas to stabilize growth. However, geographic constraints and deeply rooted ties to the energy sector present economic headwinds. It remains an open question whether Calgary can successfully pivot its longstanding strengths into new, sustainable engines of prosperity.
This has spurred local leaders to ramp up efforts to diversify Calgary’s economy beyond its traditional oil and gas roots.
A Key Priority of City Leadership
Economic diversification has become a top focus for the mayor of Calgary and for the Calgary Economic Development Corporation. They want to attract investment in other industries to create a resilient economy not solely tied to natural resource extraction. The goal is to develop a business ecosystem where technology, financial services, transportation & logistics, tourism, and other sectors play a major role.
The city and province have introduced incentives, grants, tax credits, and other programs to spur growth in target industries. However, some argue that Calgary faces geographic disadvantages, being situated far from major export ports and the US border. Furthermore, much of the area’s infrastructure and talent pools have been optimized for the energy sector over the past 50+ years.
Emerging Sectors Show Potential
Despite the hurdles, sources of economic diversity have started to sprout up across Calgary. For example, the city has worked hard to promote itself as a transportation & logistics hub, given its proximity to the CP and CN railways along with Calgary International Airport. CP Rail recently moved its corporate headquarters to Calgary as a result.
Several financial services firms have also relocated parts of their operations to Calgary or expanded existing offices there. Attracting new businesses has been helped by Calgary’s high quality of life scores and lower costs relative to other major Canadian centers like Toronto or Vancouver, and according to the 2023 Quality of Life report published by the Calgary Foundation, a staggering 81 percent of residents love living in the city, an improvement on 2021-2022.
Additionally, Calgary’s technology ecosystem has started to blossom, specializing in fields like energy tech, industrial IoT, AI, and software as a service. The University of Calgary, in particular, has been supporting tech talent development in the region. Between 2012 and 2019, hundreds of startups were created through its Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking.
Alberta’s Online Casino Sector Emerges
One emerging industry that holds promise is online gaming and betting. With strong tech talent pools and business-friendly policies, dozens of gaming firms have established offices in Calgary and across Alberta, including Zensoft Studios. New World Interactive, and Peak Pixel Games.
In part, the growth in online casinos has been enabled by Bill C-218, passed in 2021, which legalizes single-event sports betting in Canada. Private companies can now legally operate online casinos that you can find in Alberta, sportsbooks, and other gaming platforms. Already, global giants like BetMGM, PointsBet, and theScore have launched their Canadian hubs from the province.
The Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission oversees licensing and regulation of operators. By positioning itself as an attractive hub for online gaming companies, Alberta aims to foster innovation while generating tax revenues from the new sector. Some estimates project it could account for thousands of tech jobs and over $100 million in annual provincial taxes within a few years.
Beyond direct jobs and tax dollars, the emergence of gaming and gambling companies also supports growth for Alberta’s technology ecosystem more broadly. Their engineering teams help expand the talent pool of highly skilled software developers, cybersecurity experts, and data scientists. Gaming firms often partner with local IT consultancies and advertising agencies too.
The Road Ahead
With oil volatility likely to continue, diversifying Calgary’s economy will remain an ongoing priority. There are still challenges to overcome, but the city has made strides in nurturing new industries like transportation & logistics, financial services, tech startups, and now online gaming as well.
The road ahead will require persistence, but Calgary has shown its ability to adapt and rebuild beyond its traditional economic base.