January 14, 2010 – Our city — one of six “Alisters,” along with Waterloo, Ont., Ottawa, Vancouver, St. John’s, N.L., and Richmond Hill, Ont. — has what “migrants are looking for when choosing where to locate,” according to a Conference Board of Canada report on what makes Canadian cities attractive to skilled, mobile workers.

“Cities without the ability to act as magnets and attract new people will struggle to stay prosperous and vibrant in the decades ahead,” said Mario Lefebvre, director of the board’s centre for municipal studies.

The term migrant refers to anyone who moves from one area to another city, province or country, said Lefebvre. It does not refer to temporary foreign workers.

The report, based on 2006 data, compared the performance of 50 cities in seven categories: society, health, economy, environment, education, innovation and housing.

Calgary ranked at the top of the list due to high ratings in the economy and innovation.

Those two attributes figured prominently when Lakshmi Raj and her husband Raj Narayanaswamy were deciding in 1995 where to settle down and start a business. They considered Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary, as well as New York City and San Francisco.

Raj, who’d moved from India to Calgary in 1991 to marry Narayanaswamy and complete her computer science degree, said the couple chose to stay here.

“We felt we could meet like-minded people here. And we found that to be true. There are a lot of young, very smart, very technology-driven people in Calgary. That’s what attracted both of us to stay here.”

In 1996, the couple founded Replicon Inc., a fast-growing technology firm that develops and markets web-based time sheet and expense management software used by companies around the world.

“We find a lot of people here to be very entrepreneurial and driven. And they understand technology. It’s easy to hire and build a great company here,” said Raj, a co-CEO of Replicon who was ranked No. 6 on Profile magazine’s list of Canada’s Top 100 Women Entrepreneurs in November.

Because immigrants like Raj “form a critical part of Canada’s future,” said Lefebvre, Calgary should be doing a lot more to welcome them.

It earned a “D” in the society category when it comes to the earning power of university-educated, foreign-born people.

“The foreign-born population has very limited success compared to the Canadian-born with the same education level,” noted Lefebvre. “That is not something that will make it easy to attract international migrants.”

Calgary does well attracting people from other provinces, he said, but international migrants pick Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal for their cultural diversity.

“The time is not so far out that all of Canada’s population growth will come through immigration, so our cities had better gear up at being more attractive,” he said, explaining that population growth and economic growth go hand in hand. Robust population growth means strong housing requirements — more residential construction, for example — and more people drive consumer spending.

“Increasingly, countries are looking for migrants because the aging of populations is not restricted to Canada. We’ll have a big battle down the road for immigrants. The pool of migrants is also shrinking because people in India and China have less and less reason to leave as their countries become more successful.”

While Calgary remains attractive to international migrants, many are frustrated because, while they can find jobs, they cannot easily find employment in their area of expertise, said Din Ladak, CEO of Immigrant Services Calgary. And they typically earn less than Canadian-born workers with the same amount of education and work experience.

“We have that discrepancy and a huge lack of consistency and we have a few things to fix up, one of them being the whole foreign credentialing process,” said Ladak. “The good news is we’re taking baby steps to fix that.”

Surprisingly, Calgary earned an “A” in the housing category, ranking No. 2 after Levis, Que. (Peterborough, Ont. was dead last.)

“Yes, house prices did increase significantly, but you also have to take into consideration that income has done relatively well in Calgary,” said Lefebvre.

Calgary scored a “C” in education, health and society, largely because the city had trouble keep up with the needs of its booming population. In one telling indicator — hospital beds per capita– Calgary scored a “D.”

Vancouver was lauded for its warm climate and “young, diverse, and multicultural population.”

Ottawa, the nation’s capital, received high rankings for education and innovation, and scored well in all other categories except health.

Waterloo, home of BlackBerry maker Research In Motion Ltd., was the top-ranked city for education, and also scored high for innovation, economy and housing.

Richmond Hill, just north of Toronto, was judged to be exceptionally attractive to migrants for its diverse population, and it scored well in innovation and education.

St. John’s was among the highest ranked cities in terms of health and environment.

Toronto, Edmonton and Victoria were among the cities in the ‘B’ category for being well suited to newcomers. Toronto, Canada’s largest city, was the top ranked spot in the society category due to its ethnic diversity and culture. However, the Conference Board said things such as air quality and access to health care kept it out of the ‘A’ list.

© Copyright The Calgary Herald

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