What it takes to be on top: How Alberta leads Canadian Entrepreneurs

Analysis on the history and educational advantages Alberta has among other provinces

By: Tiffany Narducci, Staff Writer         

Starting your own business requires a lot of hard work, time, financing and dedication.  It involves taking a calculated risk in the hopes that you’ve put your finger on something society needs or wants.  You must know the demographics of your market to ensure you’ve tapped into something new and relevant.  Or, you could just move to Alberta.

According to this year’s Communities in Boom report, five of the top 10 business-friendly municipalities in the overall national rankings were from Alberta.  Greater Calgary (Airdrie, Rocky View, Cochrane, and Chestermere) ranked first nationally, while Lloydminster snagged second place. Red Deer, Grand Prairie and Greater Edmonton all ranked fourth, sixth and ninth, respectively.  Albertan cities did more than just earn the majority of the highest-ranking spots; cities across the province were to be found throughout the list, ensuring that Alberta was not only represented for quality, but also quantity.

Alberta is Canada’s wealthiest province – and that’s not about to change.  This year’s RBC Economics Provincial Outlook states Alberta’s GDP (gross domestic product) growth will not only lead the country in 2014, but for the next two years at the very least.   According to the Calgary Herald, the report suggests “heavy energy sector investment will continue to play a key role in driving Alberta’s GDP to new heights in 2014 but it will be the broadening of the expansion across economic sectors that will accelerate the pace.”

Business is booming in Alberta, with no apparent signs of slowing down.  So what exactly is it about the prairie province that’s got business owners so riled up?


Kimberely Neutens of the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business agrees that part of the key to Alberta’s success lies in its history.

“There is something that’s different in the DNA.  [Alberta] grew from a prairie town to a global player in the energy sector in a relatively short period of time,” says Neutens.  “The city was known for deals with a handshake, founded on trust, and people who had interesting ideas to pursue.  You always hear about the can-do spirit, the entrepreneurial spirit of the town or city.”

Alberta’s history is chock-full with examples of its entrepreneurial spirit.  Anthony Henday, the first European to arrive in Alberta, was a fur trader.  The fur trade became a defining facet of Alberta’s growth as a province – trading endeavors allowed for the mapping of Alberta in the 1790’s and early 1800.  The North-West Company (Hudson Bay’s biggest competitor in the fur trade) commissioned David Thompson to draw the first maps of the province.

The arrival of the railway in 1883 brought in Alberta’s first settlers, who became successful ranchers and farmers in the province’s foothills.  Growing demand for wheat in Europe and increased access to machinery meant that settlers in Alberta were able to pave their own way forward, working in jobs that valued labour and resourcefulness.

From 1896 to 1914, Alberta grew exponentially.  Improvements in the railway system and advancements in science and technology allowed for farming families to prosper across the country.

Once the Great Depression hit, Alberta farmers suffered incredibly, due to droughts, grasshopper plagues, and soil erosion.  These factors, in combination with a poor economic climate (leading to the falling price of wheat), meant that many farmers and ranchers lost their livelihoods.

Then, fortune smiled on Alberta in 1947 when the first major oil discovery was made near Edmonton.  As more discoveries were made across the province, oil money flowed in and set Alberta apart from the other provinces as the home of business.  

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