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Trade Minister Deron Bilous will return to Silicon Valley to woo talent

Economic development and trade minister Deron Bilous (file photo)

Fresh off a productive trade mission to Silicon Valley, Deron Bilous, Alberta’s minister of economic development and trade, says he will be returning to the tech hub.

Bilous was in California earlier this week with Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Calgary Economic Development president Mary Moran, in an attempt to woo technology companies north. Bilous spoke with Postmedia civic affairs reporter Annalise Klingbeil about the visit and how Alberta is positioning itself amid fierce competition for Silicon Valley talent. 

Q: How did the trip to San Francisco go?

A: I think it went very well. I can tell you that companies were very interested to hear what Alberta and Calgary have to offer … We have a very talented pool, we’re the youngest province, fastest growing province, we have the most competitive tax regime, no payroll (tax), no PST, no health care premiums. We’ve got a quality of life that’s second to none and one of our best selling features at the moment is affordability. 

Q: Did the pitch work? Are companies planning on setting up satellite offices here as a result of your visit?

A: Honestly, it’d be a little premature to say. For some of these companies, this is the first time we’re getting in front of them … Everybody is getting in front of them. They get three to four pitches per day from jurisdictions, municipalities, countries that all want them to go there. 

Q: Given that competition, how do you make Alberta stand out?

A: First and foremost, you’ve got competitive advantages that Alberta enjoys over some of these other provinces and cities. You’ve got proximity. They love that, versus say Ontario cities, which are much further from the valley. You’ve got a significant number of talented, trained professionals that are here in the province … We’ve got an incredible amount of talent and, especially in Calgary right now, a lot of engineers looking for work … Our competitive tax regime is an incentive for them. You’ve got direct flights. As well, the message of the province going with the city was a very strong message. 

Q: What would it mean for Alberta, and Calgary, specifically, if some of these companies did move here and set up offices in some of those empty buildings downtown? 

A: I think it’s significant for a number of reasons. These are jobs — when we’re talking about tech companies especially, these are high-paying, quality jobs. This is also positive for us telling our story. Silicon Valley geographically may be spread very wide but it’s a tight-knit community and all of these people talk to each other. 

Because competition is fierce, we needed to be down there. Calgary will be returning to Silicon Valley on a regular basis. I will be back there in the next two months, and we’re going to continue to have a presence on the ground there, talking to companies who are interested in what we have to offer. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

aklingbeil@postmedia.com


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