Calgary ranks third on global prosperity score card

Calgary ranks third on global prosperity score card: Toronto Board of Trade

Calgary is back near the top of a score card that ranks prosperity in a number of cities around the world, besting all other Canadian metros on the list.

Strong population growth, a young workforce, disposable income, affordable housing and clean air helped boost the city to the number three spot on the list behind Paris and San Francisco.

That’s up from last year’s fifth place ranking, but below its first place finish in 2009, the first time the Toronto Board of Trade compiled results, using information from the Conference Board of Canada — including commute time, income equality, gross domestic product and productivity — to compare 24 major cities.

However, Calgary did score low in some key areas, including transportation.

“I think it speaks to Calgary’s more dynamic economy, more dynamic than we had in the ‘80s when it took us years to crawl out of the recession,” Todd Hirsch, senior economist at ATB Financial, said of the city’s post-recession recovery. “What you’d really hate is to be extremely high in some (indicators) and at the bottom on others.

“You’d rather be really good on a number of indicators and get an overall ranking quite high, like Calgary got.”

The Toronto board of Trade said “Calgary’s success comes from a combination of solid fundamentals in both (economy and labour attractiveness), not just from a robust economy. With the fastest population growth of all metros, Calgary proved that it was an attractive place for people seeking work.

“Calgary’s housing affordability and clean air provide further evidence of its livability.”

Elsbeth Mehrer, director of research, workforce and strategy for Calgary Economic Development, says the city’s ranking shows it should be a choice destination for both companies and people.

“To be able to put the city in the context of major global cities like Paris and San Francisco, that’s an important frame around our positioning,” she said. “I think that helps to elevate the conversation to a different level.

“If you’re comparing yourselves with communities of this stature, now it’s a very different conversation in terms of the types of target companies you’re trying to attract, the types of investment.”

On the score card Calgary ranked third overall, and third for being attractive to workers (behind Paris and London).

The ability to attract labour is important, said Chamber of Commerce chief economist Ben Brunnen, because “the labour shortage, labour retention issue is starting to emerge again. Positioning Calgary as a destination for young talent is a fundamental first step for long-term prosperity.”

Calgary placed sixth if only the economy was looked at (behind San Francisco, Boston, Seattle, Dallas and New York).

The Toronto Board of Trade wrote that Calgary overcame “near-bottom rankings on venture capital investment, market size, and IPOs, with first or second-place results on income growth, unemployment rate, residential building permit growth and GDP growth” to get to that sixth spot.

Calgary’s average office rents also put them in the top half of the rankings, in that they’re cheaper than more than 50 per cent of the list.

In the first three months of 2011, according to CB Richard Ellis, Calgary’s office vacancy fell to 12 per cent from 15 per cent compared to the same period a year before. Regional managing director for Alberta Greg Kwong said in a release that given the amount of office space coming onto the Calgary market, the drop is “amazing. This is a testament to how resilient Calgary’s office market has become.”

However, for all the good news, the city rated an overall 13th place in the transportation category.

That factored in an average commute time of 67 minutes, longer than Los Angeles, Chicago and Berlin, but better than Toronto’s 80 minutes, and a score in the bottom half when public transit ridership was evaluated.

“It points out some of the warts, too,” Hirsch said of the score card. “It’s good to be made aware of this is where we rank in global cities when it comes to commute times. A 60-minute commute time is not normal, this not just being part of a big city.

“This is a problem. Who knows where we would be if we could solve some of those transportation problems.”

Calgary also ranked lower in areas that included productivity and venture capital, which Mehrer said are on-going issues the city’s business community knows need work.

“It reaffirms what we know needs to be a focus,” she said.

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