March 8, 2022

Alberta Stories

The leaders driving Alberta’s economic transformation

While companies coming to Alberta note low tax rates, business-friendly policies and young talent as reasons to invest, Alberta also has a history of strong local leaders working tirelessly, and creatively, to advocate for exciting new investments in our communities.  

From ground-breaking centres of excellence to multi-billion-dollar energy projects and high-impact municipal advocacy, these leaders break down barriers and make the high-value international investments we see in the headlines happen—investments that create jobs and diversify Alberta’s growing sectors.  

Today, we’re highlighting some of the leaders who are driving Alberta’s economic transformation, and creating innovative new opportunities in tech, finance, petrochemicals and more.  

Alison Jackson, EY Canada Managing Partner — Calgary 

Alison Jackson from EY Canada

When Alison Jackson learned that Calgary was one of more than 50 locations across North America being considered for Canada’s new EY Finance Centre of Excellence, she sprang into action to work with local partners, including Invest Alberta, to identify key benefits and government support to tip the decision in Alberta’s favour.  A well-educated and diverse workforce, quality of life and Alberta’s affordable cost of living and doing business were on her list of selling points. 

“Competition was fierce and there were a lot of factors for the decision-makers to consider. It was hard to know which of the many benefits of Calgary and Alberta to emphasize because it was a closed process. The support we received from Invest Alberta and other organizations was terrific,” she said.  

Jackson attributes leading by example and being highly attuned to the power of flexibility and the need for accountability as key ingredients to make it all work. 

“I have also been a champion for inclusion as a business imperative and a way to make us all better,” she said. 

Her leadership style and talent to attract investment were big wins for Alberta. The innovative new EY Finance Centre of Excellence in Calgary was announced in January 2022. It will create hundreds of jobs and offer cutting-edge internal finance services that meet the most pressing needs of EY’s business today and in the future. 

“I’m proud of how Calgary is able to compete on an international stage for this kind of opportunity. I moved here 11 years ago from Ontario and I know how incredible it is as a place to live. We’ve had some challenging years and I’m proud to see the spirit and the substance of Calgary and Alberta rise to the top!” 

Amber Link, Reeve, Division 2 Councilor, Wheatland County 

Reeve Link doesn’t need to look much further than local farmers’ fields when it comes to harnessing creativity to attract global investment.  

Reeve Link

“I like to think of what we do as similar to the agricultural producers who are the foundation of Wheatland County. Just like our farmers, there are multiple circumstances outside of our control and we don’t determine who will invest in Wheatland County. What we can do is cultivate an environment that is conducive to growth and fosters job creation,” she said.  

Key logistics and transportation networks like rail and proximity to air, competitively-priced land, an active labour force and two industrial areas are just some of the benefits Reeve Link cites in her determination to advocate for investment in her county.  

“Our advocacy really started by building that foundation and through key strategic partnerships. Our relationships are strong, collaborative, and strategic. We promote Wheatland County online and at events. I keep a package with me and watch for opportunities to share Wheatland whenever I can,” says the Reeve. 

Her ability to get projects to a “yes” is evident in high-impact investments coming to the county, including Willow Creek Organics and Rocky Mountain GTL, a synthetic fuel manufacturing facility. And there are more projects expected in 2022, which she attributes to a council that’s not afraid to take big steps with investment, diversification, and committing to Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) in Alberta communities.  

Inclusivity is part of ESG, and Reeve Link notes the importance of participation in public life and addressing bias.  

“Rapid change will be challenging, representation matters. Role models are important. But it’s a bit of a chicken and egg issue, we need women in leadership for other women to see, but currently women make up a disproportionate ratio of leadership positions.” 

“As a municipal elected official, I didn’t experience any explicit barriers to running for Council. I do see ways we can all contribute to increased participation, that represents the diversity in our community. We can start by challenging our own internalized beliefs. Bias does still exist, though often unconsciously.” 

Reeve Link has a personal goal to see $1 billion in development investment in the county during this term on Council, which includes a focus on ag-tech, agri-food, and value-added ag, manufacturing, bio-industrials, and tourism. 

Rachel Smith, Vice President and General Manager, Air Products Canada 

Rachel Smith is no stranger to innovation and billion-dollar investments. At Air Products Canada, she helped lay the groundwork for Alberta to lead the hydrogen economy and establish Edmonton as Western Canada’s Hydrogen Hub.  

Rachel Smith from Air Products Canada

The company’s new net-zero hydrogen energy complex will establish a local supply of liquid hydrogen, enabling the energy transition of the transportation sector, encouraging hydrogen-fuelled transit buses, trucks, and trains with long-term local supply.   

Any transition requires leadership and innovation, and Canada’s energy transition is no different.  

“The energy transition requires a different approach.  We must all think differently and embrace transformational change.  This can mean moving away from traditional investments to using modern technologies and an innovative design to achieve broader climate change goals.  Alberta is a leading player in Canada’s energy transition. The focus from so many companies and the amount of capital being directed at clean energy technologies in Alberta is remarkable. Great things are happening here,” she noted. 

When it comes to innovation and driving key projects, Smith makes is clear that Air Products is not waiting. The company is a significant mover in strategic investment and megaprojects, and a big part of her advocacy and leadership is about showing Alberta’s strengths and innovative spirit. 

“I advocate for investment in Alberta by pointing to the province’s unique strengths.  Specific to investments in hydrogen, the province has resources, infrastructure, viable geology for carbon capture and permanent storage, and a young, highly skilled population.  More broadly, the province is a highly desirable place to live – safe, clean and affordable, with extraordinary arts and culture and recreation opportunities.  Alberta’s diversity is an enormous, under-appreciated asset.” 

Innovation and diversity go hand-in-hand with strategic investment which Smith also ties to a strong work culture that’s focused on inclusion and core values. 

“Regardless of gender, there are always barriers to overcome, and everyone’s experience will be unique. I am fortunate in that I work for a company that puts a strong focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. Air Products is a leader in this regard. I am grateful for the strong support network of executive woman established in Alberta, and to my colleagues (past and present) for providing exceptional mentorship.” 

“We are building a project that is central to Canada’s energy transition.  We are driving Air Products’ higher purpose, which is to create innovative solutions that benefit the environment, enhance sustainability and address the challenges facing customers, communities, and the world.  These are more than just words to my team, and I am proud to work for such a values-driven organization.” 

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