An Alberta posse is riding into Toronto this week to showcase its northern metropolis as a first-rate business centre and tourism destination.
Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel is leading the delegation to Toronto and Ottawa from April 27 to 29, and will be joined by Edmonton Economic Development Corp. (EEDC) officials and select business and arts leaders in singing the praises of the city as they attempt to put Edmonton on Ontario's radar screen.
Through the Edmonton Edge event, the city's leaders will make their case to business decision makers in Ontario along with getting out a message that Alberta's capital has a lot going for it.
"We want to showcase Edmonton as a premier place to do business and as a preferred tourism destination," says EEDC spokesman Jim Rudolph. "That's one of the underlying concerns we're trying to address with this initiative.
"Edmonton's business and tourism attributes are not sufficiently addressed in southern Ontario, and this is a beachhead into those markets."
It's not often that mayors from other Canadian cities come courting in Toronto, says Glen Stone, spokesman for the Toronto Board of Trade (BOT).
While Stone says the BOT is always glad to broaden trade and business opportunities, generally these types of delegations tend to be from foreign destinations such as Hong Kong or Spain.
"Perhaps it's an indication of how little we have exploited the trade possibilities within our own borders," says Stone.
Edmonton's political CEO sees this trip as an important first step.
"I think it's a start," says Mandel. "I really think Edmonton needs to be a player on the national business scene if we're going to bring national business players to Edmonton."
Mandel will also take his message to Ottawa, where Alberta's arts scene is being showcased at the National Arts Centre. In Ottawa, the Edmonton push will be more government-focused. Business leaders, meanwhile, are only scheduled to take part in the Toronto leg.
The mayor, who has been in office for less than one year, is being praised as a visionary for his involvement in getting this project off the ground.
"From all I heard about Stephen Mandel he is quite a forward-looking mayor with strong initiatives to build on the future and quite a thoughtful person," says Craig Applegath, managing partner in the Toronto office of the architectural firm Cohos Evamy.
Cohos Evamy, which has offices in both Edmonton and Calgary, is one of the business members of the delegation. Edmonton-based Doug McConnell, Cohos Evamy's chairman, says he will carry the message that his city is both exciting and open for business.
"It is an opportunity for Edmonton to really put its face in the centre of the Canadian business community," says McConnell.
Another message the delegation will try to get across is that there's a lot more to Edmonton than Wayne Gretzky or the Edmonton Oilers. Rudolph says focus-group testing in Toronto drew a positive reaction about Edmonton, with respondents citing the hockey superstar and his former team.
However, he notes that even though the focus group was comprised of well-educated businesspeople, one person thought Edmonton was a small town comprised of only 50,000 people rather than the one million people now living in the greater Edmonton region. Others thought the city was cold, dull and boring.
John Stanton, president of the retail chain The Running Room, with stores in nine provinces and the United States, is another member of the group going to Ontario. He's also quick to dispel the city's stereotypical image.
"I'm a proud Edmontonian and Edmonton is a good place to do business. It's our home base," he says.
"From a quality of life perspective, it's one of the best cities in Canada to live in."
Jacqueline Shan, president and CEO of Edmonton's CV Technologies, maker of the Cold f/X prevention pill, hopes that in the long run the Edmonton Edge branding mission will result in more skilled knowledge workers opting for Edmonton as their home.
"We have a great business environment and we're excited to be part of it (Edmonton Edge)," says Shan, who chose the city 18 years ago when she left China to come to Canada. It was the University of Alberta and its proficiency in medical research that lured and kept her there, she adds.
Biomira's Alex McPherson, another Edmonton booster, is delighted that he'll be able to show people in Canada's Golden Horseshoe that there's more than snow and frost in his city, though he has some misgivings about the mission itself.
"I'm going to be pitching biotech as an example of a knowledge-based industry that's an outgrowth of the incredible contributions and investments made in our universities and schools like NAIT (the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology) and SAIT (the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology)," says McPherson.
"But I don't have great enthusiasm that a trip like this is going to do it. It's going to take a lot more of continued activity, but I get the idea that this is where Mayor Mandel is coming from."
(Laura Severs can be reached at email@example.com)