Calgary and Edmonton move up in survey of tech talent job growth in North America

·4 min read
Calgary has cracked the top 30 in the annual Scoring Tech Talent report. It examines the top 50 North American markets and measures their ability to attract and develop tech talent.  (Bryan Labby/CBC - image credit)
Calgary has cracked the top 30 in the annual Scoring Tech Talent report. It examines the top 50 North American markets and measures their ability to attract and develop tech talent. (Bryan Labby/CBC - image credit)

Calgary continues to climb in the rankings of North America's tech hot spots, jumping six spots to 28 in a field of 50 cities examined by commercial real estate and investment firm CBRE.

Calgary joined Los Angeles/Orange County and Detroit with the biggest year-over-year leap in the survey's rankings.

The climb occurred during the global pandemic, suggesting the tech sector was somewhat immune from the crisis that led to tens of thousands of job losses in Alberta.

The Scoring Tech Talent report is published annually and this is the ninth edition. It examines the top 50 North American markets and measures their ability to attract and develop tech talent.

"That's huge for us," said Brad Parry, the interim CEO and president of Calgary Economic Development, an agency that has been working to diversify the city's economy.

Parry says Calgary cracked the top 50 last year and has now moved up to 28.

"The fact that we've seen this much gain in just one year, it's phenomenal for us, we're over the moon on that," he said.

"They're finally recognizing what's happening in our community. Amazing companies doing such cool stuff — that is starting to get the word out, you know. It doesn't hurt that we had a couple unicorns happen in the last little while. So that always helps get people's attention as well," said Parry, who is referring to Benevity's recent $1-billion deal.

"It's really starting to build this pool of belief in what's really happening here, and to make it a cogent industry for us."

'Long way to go'

Although Calgary has now cracked the top 30 in North America, CBRE cautions the city should not sit back and bask in the positive shift.

"This is very good news, but people shouldn't rest on our ranking or laurels," said Greg Kwong, the regional managing director for CBRE's Prairie region.

"We still have a long way to climb," he said.

Kwong credits post-secondary institutions for helping to diversify the city's energy dependent economy.

"Calgary's educational system has finally made a bit of a pivot, and is starting to pump out software engineers rather than petroleum engineers."

He says it's an option for unemployed oilpatch professionals to consider transitioning to the tech sector. He says it would increase the city's tech talent pool, help tech companies expand or move here and start filling the estimated 15 million square feet of downtown office space that's sitting empty.

"If we can pivot those people and re-educate them and get them involved in the tech sector, there's lots of jobs waiting for them," said Kwong.

Calgary — and the other seven Canadian markets listed in the survey — were noted for being the most affordable tech markets based on housing and office rents.

The survey said 46,700 people were employed in the tech sector in Calgary in 2020, a 17.9 per cent increase since 2015. The majority of those jobs were held by software developers and programmers, as well as computer support, database and systems employees.

Toronto ranked fourth in the survey, the highest of any Canadian city. It was followed by Ottawa (10), Vancouver (11), Montreal (16), Waterloo region (21), Quebec City (34) and Edmonton (38). Alberta's capital city cracked the top 50 for the first time and recorded the highest growth rate of tech talent among all cities over the past five years.

Ottawa is the highest ranked market in North America for tech employment concentration, with tech jobs making up 11.6 per cent of total jobs there. Calgary is at 7.1 per cent.

Pioneering tech giant started in Calgary

Critical Mass, a digital marketing and design agency, started in Calgary 25 years ago. It now has 1,000 employees around the world, including 300 who are still based in the city. Some of the company's clients have included BMW, Nissan, ASICS and Citibank.

The company's chief talent officer says it's been exciting to see the city's economy diversify — with more tech startups, an expanded pool of tech talent — all of it helping lure candidates to the city.

"Now there are other opportunities as retention is always a challenge," said Sara Anhorn.

"But if that, you know, brings people initially to the city, and they know that there's other other spaces and other opportunities that they can take advantage of, it's a win-win for everybody."

It means the company won't have to look as far afield to bring people in — and there are opportunities at virtually all of the company's locations, including Calgary.

Expansion, jobs expected

Kwong expects more good news in the months ahead as more tech companies look to expand in Calgary.

"I can assure you that there are some big deals that will be announced between now and the end of the year," he said.

"No head offices moving here in a major way, but lots of big branch offices of brand name tech companies that we all know. So, yeah, it's good news."

Bryan Labby is an enterprise reporter with CBC Calgary. If you have a good story idea or tip, you can reach him at bryan.labby@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @CBCBryan.

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