Best in the west

Edmonton tops our ranking of the country's biggest cities.

Edmonton may be well-known for its proximity to Alberta's oilsands, but it's far from a one-horse town. The bustling community of 990,500 seems to have more economic development than it knows how to handle — $76.4 billion of regional investment is planned in the Greater Edmonton area over the next decade. “We're one of the lowest-cost places in the world to do business,” says Myron Borys, vice-president with the Edmonton Economic Development Corp. Edmonton is not only the best place to do business in Western Canada, according to our survey, it's the country's top-ranked major city.

But it takes more than cheap rent to attract business, and Borys brags Edmonton has one of the country's most educated workforces — not surprising given it's home to 11 post-secondary institutions. That talent pool is what attracted Dell Inc. to set up a customer contact centre in Edmonton, which will generate about $600 million in economic benefits over the next two decades, according to the Edmonton Economic Development Corp.

It doesn't hurt that no other province can match Alberta's low corporate and personal tax environment. But Mayor Stephen Mandel says he's committed to establishing closer ties to the business community and hopes to establish Edmonton as a regional operations base for more sectors than just the oilsands.

The challenge will be stretching the city's tight labour market. With a 5.1% unemployment rate, one of the lowest in Canada, there aren't a lot of workers to go around. But Edmonton actually sees the high demand as an advantage. Asks Borys: “Do you want to go to a depressed region and it's got 30% unemployment, or do you want to go where we have one of the fastest-growing, highly skilled workforces, and a lot of investment and activity going on?”