Alberta fights the brain drain

By Mike Bowerman

A recent trip to California gave Science and Innovation Minister Lorne Taylor a chance to show former Albertans working in the American state the opportunities that lies back home.

"We want the knowledge-based sector to be 25 per cent of our economy by 2010." stated Taylor. "Most people still think of Alberta as an oil province and don’t realize that in 1985 40 per cent of our GDP was in oil; that’s now down to 19 per cent, with increases mostly in the knowledge-based or high-tech sector."

The trip includes speaking engagements in Los Angeles and at Stanford University, one of the pre-eminent information and communication technology universities in the world. Response exceeded expectations, with 45 venture capital firms planning to attend the Stanford talk and serious interest from technology-based corporations.

"We have a whole company that is going to move their business up here," said the minister. "And we have three companies we are in negotiation with, who want to do partnerships with us."

The University of Calgary sent faculty members and staff on the trip. Executive Director of External Relations Stu Reid is among those looking to show the new face of the provincial economy to former graduates.

"We’re doing some alumni receptions to represent Alberta as an ongoing leader," said Reid. "In wireless research for example, we have got a great story to tell."

The growth in knowledge-based industries bodes well for Alberta, which had an influx of those with technology-based skills while most of the country suffered losses. According to Taylor, further efforts to pursue these graduates concentrate on the provinces’ post-secondary schools.

"When you have the best science and scientists in the world then
everything will spin out if it," said Taylor. "Business will locate to where the science is."

To facilitate this process top researchers from the U.S. and Canada are being contracted to work in Alberta schools. The appointment of a top researcher from a prominent Canadian university to the U of C will be announced in upcoming weeks.

The attraction for these high-demand workers is not just an increasingly favourable research and business environment but the contrast in lifestyle between Canada and the U.S.

"People down here [in California] are tired of driving two hours to work and sending their kids to private school," Taylor noted. "So if the employment options are there for them, we can offer them the lifestyle they want. [In California] a small three bedroom house costs $700,000-800,000 American. You can get the same house in Calgary for $300,000 Canadian."

With 2,000 vacancies in Alberta’s information and communications technology industries the government is hoping that its message gets through to the former residents.

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