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How Calgary and Other Oil Towns Can Save Their Economies

I live in a city desperate to diversify its economy, but its officials aren’t trying hard enough to truly make it happen and work with entrepreneurs. My city is Calgary, the oil capital of North America and once leading economy on the continent. It’s a hell of a place to live, rated the cleanest city in the world and nestled near the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.  But, as with all one trick economic ponies, it has been a boom and bust city for decades. With the ebbs and flows of the price of crude goes Calgary’s economy. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Calgary boasts having the most entrepreneurs per capita of any city in Canada. So the economic know-how is readily available to get this city back on track, but its leaders need to act quickly or the top talent and innovators will leave. This brings me to my day today…

I woke up at 3:30 this morning to get to the Calgary airport and catch a flight to Grand Junction, Colorado, a small Rocky Mountain town with a chip on its shoulder you could say. A beautiful town sitting in a valley, Grand Junction, much like Calgary, has been reliant on oil and gas for the better part of the last 100 years. But judging by the upbeat attitude of its mayor and economic development team, whom I met with today, they’re out to change that… and I bet they will be very successful.

Leaders from Grand Junction’s economic development team and Chamber of Commerce are actively looking to court new businesses to the city with a basket of incentives. For starters, they are offering an 8-year tax holiday for eligible businesses. This includes:

* 0 state income taxes
* 0 state and local sales & use taxes
* 0 county and municipal real and business personal property taxes
* 0 state income taxes for your employees

Who is eligible for Grand Junction’s/Mesa County’s ‘Jump-Start’ program? A startup, a company new to the state or a Colorado-based business ready to expand is likely eligible if it generates new business for the state, is located in Mesa County, does not directly compete with another local firm, and creates a minimum of 5 new jobs while adding to the economic base.

Mesa County Jump Start program

This is a town that appreciates its entrepreneurs and opens its doors to enterprising outsiders like myself. In this meeting today I was energized to see government-folk engaged in selling their city to businesses and entrepreneurs. These people get it. They know what it takes to diversify an economy and attract talent. They know that if they don’t get out there and start providing incentives, nothing will change with their economy and it’ll continue to boom and bust, making it nearly impossible to plan for the long-term. What I thought would be a 30-minute meeting ended up taking two hours and had me daydreaming about what it would be like to open up shop in such an entrepreneur-friendly city.

From the brochures to the pitch, the mayor and her team were succinct and on point. They are clearly motivated to diversify their economy and there isn’t one entrepreneur on the planet who wouldn’t have gotten the good vibes I did in that boardroom. Great things happen when government and business interests are aligned.

Whether they were pitching the potential commercial partnerships, the tax benefits or the lifestyle of hunting, rafting, hiking, wineries and golf, it all sounded idyllic for an entrepreneur. Even the pamphlet they gave me as I left was well-crafted. I absolutely love this line on the promotional material about Mesa County: “For the entrepreneur that wants to stay off the grid, yet connected, the Grand Valley offers big-city amenities and a robust technical infrastructure coupled with abundant outdoor recreation and a generous small-town spirit.”

Grand Junction enticing entrepreneurs

Take notes, Calgary (and oil towns across the continent)… Grand Junction, Colorado and Mesa County have figured it out. Cities need to embrace the entrepreneur by working together and providing the incentives necessary to entice a business owner to relocate. They won’t come to you, government. You need to sell your administration, the city lifestyle and regional benefits if you want the support of the entrepreneur and the gifts she can bring your economy. And yes, low corporate taxes are part of the solution.

Stay hungry,

Aaron Hoddinott signature

Aaron

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Like all of you entrepreneurs and investors out there, Aaron has been in the trenches. He is the founder of an influential online media and PR company. From oil wildcatters to mining prospectors, tech gurus to medical doctors, and even celebrities, Aaron has helped market and expand brand awareness for a diverse range of publicly traded companies ran by entrepreneurs from all walks of life.

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