Calgary economic summit hears advice from ex-mayor of Pittsburgh

Calgary's economic growth will slow to 2.5% this year, predicts Conference Board of Canada

A former mayor of Pittsburgh had some advice for Calgary as hundreds of experts gathered to think about how the city should battle its way out of an economic downturn.

Tom Murphy, who was the mayor of Pittsburgh between 1994 and 2006, spoke Thursday at the Downtown Economic Summit.

The event was organized by Calgary Economic Development to discuss the record high office vacancy rates in the city's downtown core.

Speaking earlier Thursday on the Calgary Eyeopener, Murphy said Pittsburgh recovered from the decline of the steel industry by positioning universities as economic drivers and forming key partnerships with them.

"It's the entrepreneurial infrastructure you have to build up, and venture capital," he said.

"You need an infrastructure in Calgary to take advantage of the white-collar entrepreneurial climate that you do have. Or else, you'll grow the talent, and they'll move."

Murphy says people tend to want to stay in their hometown if they have the right support.

The summit, which was by invitation only, featured 150 business, community and government leaders who shared ideas and looked at emerging trends and opportunities to help address the economic situation, according to organizers.

Scott Hutcheson, executive chairman of the board with Aspen Properties, which owns several office buildings downtown, said he's cautiously optimistic about the downtown core's high vacancy rate.

In the last six months, none of their tenants went bankrupt or closed up shop, nor did they ask to renegotiate their leases, he said.

"I'd say we are kind of at the end of the bad news cycle. That doesn't mean we are going to bounce back instantly, but it does mean to us in the downtown office sector we've got to go to work. We need to get some things done that are right."

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With files from the Calgary Eyeopener