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Not just flights: Airport City about to reach milestone in new development

The Edmonton International Airport expects to mark a major milestone before the end of this year — more people will be heading to the airport area to shop or work each day than to board flights.

That’s how much development around the flight centre has taken off.

The land surrounding the airport is a steadily growing cluster of tourist attractions, shopping outlets, technology developers, manufacturing facilities and shipping services designed to drive a regional profit.

“It’s really like a city in the way that it’s developed,” said Myron Keehn, the airport’s vice-president of air service and commercial development.

Growth is driven by international demand for rapid, on-demand movement of stuff as well as a growing number of passengers, he said. That economy demands such rapid connections, Keehn calls it the “physical internet.”

Speaking just outside this “airport city,” Rob de Groot said the biggest advantage of moving his company, Red Cup Distillery, to the airport was in shipping costs. He used to be in Vegreville, and the move cut both distance and time.

“When I’m getting bottles shipped from Vancouver, it’s next day. Just logistically speaking my costs went down huge,” said de Groot.

Beyond shipping, de Groot said there’s a productive relationship between the airport and its tenants. The management team and board introduced de Groot to chief executives in airports across the U.S.

“They see where the opportunities are. They really are an instigator; they want to be a city that lasts forever.”

A lease sign is seen as a Westjet flight departs Edmonton International Airport on Wednesday, July 10, 2019. Photo by Ian Kucerak/Postmedia

The introductions have helped. Staff at Red Cup have been so busy bottling vodka lately that de Groot has worn out his sneakers.

Red Cup is packing up two pallets a week — about 3,000 bottles — to ship to the U.S. It’s been difficult to distribute his product in Alberta, partly because competition from imported alcohol is fierce and due to some of the regulatory and tax structures here.

“We got onto the Vegas strip before we got onto Jasper Avenue; into Houston before Calgary,” says de Groot. In the middle of a workday, he only needs to go a few blocks to the airport’s outlet mall to grab some new footwear.

Last year alone, Airport City and the airport were responsible for $3.22 billion in total economic output, supporting 26,000 full-time jobs, both direct employment at the airport and other jobs throughout the region. That’s almost double the 13,400 jobs it counted between 2015 and 2017. In 2018, investments at the airport created 2,000 new permanent positions.

While Airport City boasts low land costs and property taxes, the airport’s commercial development arm isn’t meant to be competitive with other commercial and industrial parts of Edmonton, said Keehn. “They’re meant to be complementary.”

“To see the vertical construction that’s occurred at the airport today with non-aerospace related tenancies is awesome. It can do nothing but help our economy and our region,” said Dave Young, executive vice-president at the commercial real estate agency CBRE Edmonton.

Within the 2,800-hectare area, planners aim to supply businesses with everything they need on site. Manufacturers have easy access to freight transport and air carriers, and those shippers all have secure access to jet fuel from the Shell Aviation fuel centre.

Airport officials also match up local companies that want to solve similar problems or develop products. “You end up creating things that no one ever thought of,” says Keehn.

Edmonton International Airport vice-president of air service and commercial development Myron Keehn on Wednesday, July 10, 2019. Photo by Ian Kucerak/Postmedia

For example, Soltare partnered with other tech companies to develop technology it calls iHear. It helps drivers detect when and from where emergency vehicles are approaching them.

Tech company Absolute Combustion International developed a more efficient portable diesel aircraft heater by working closely with airport staff and other businesses in the airport’s Alberta Aerospace and Technology Centre.

“Innovation feeds everyone,” said Keehn. In some sectors, quite literally. With its new Fresh Cargo Centre, the airport boasts 465 square metres of refrigerated warehouse space for handling perishable cargo like meat, fruit, produce and pharmaceuticals. The site also has a casino, Costco, Aurora Cannabis production facility, and a race track.

They have big plans for further growth. Just west of the outlet mall, next to the newly-built Fairfield Inn and Suites in a mostly empty plot of dirt and weeds, there’s a pond. It functions as a catch basin for rain runoff, but it’s fancier than most stormwater ponds in Edmonton. It looks like a section of Ottawa’s popular Rideau Canal has been transplanted into a no-mans-land on the prairies.

The plan is to create a multi-season attraction for paddle-boarding and ice-skating, an amenity for the hotel and planned new retail and office complex. But whether these amenities attract more eager tenants or not, it’s clear the Edmonton airport is no longer just an airport.

Aris MD Makes X-Ray Vision Science Fact

The co-founders of Aris MD, CEO Chandra Devam and CTO Scott Edgar, met at summer camp as eleven year old wunderkinds and bonded over their love of science fiction. As they grew up, Devam, ever the entrepreneur, hired Edgar to install carpets for one of her first businesses. Devam became a model and real estate investor, while Edgar studied Artificial Intelligence at Stanford. Years later, when Devam had an idea for a company that required a visionary technology developer, she lured Edgar from his job. They sold that company privately. Subsequent to this sale, Edgar went on to become the brains behind Dryft, which quickly sold to Apple. “If you have an iPhone and you use the keyboard on that phone, I did a lot of work on patented technology that drives that keyboard,” said Edgar.

Aris can turn any scan, of humans, or machines, into a 3D space one can navigate with VR, AR, or PC. 
ARIS MD

Several years later, Devam was having minor surgery when a surgeon nicked an artery and endangered her life. Devam wondered, given all the advances in imaging technology, why there is so much guesswork involved in surgery. She and Edgar soon discovered there was a real need for a product that could turn a CT scan into, effectively, X-ray vision. Using computer vision and augmented reality glasses, the scans can be anchored to the human body. When viewed by a clinician wearing the XR device, the body reveals its intricate layers. There’s a lot of computation and different technologies in the stack of technology Edgar created, but x-ray vision is a pretty good metaphor for the lay reader.

“Medical error, and specifically avoidable medical mistakes are the third leading cause of death in the United States which is possibly the most medically advanced country in the world,” Edgar said at NASA Ignite at SXSW in March. “Did you know that you your heart, my heart, your lungs, my lungs, they’re all in different places. We are as different on the inside as we are on the outside. This is pretty obvious if you think about it. I mean you and I look very different. There’s no way that our organs could be in the same places and there’s no way for doctors to understand that easily at this point in time. So, right now when they look at medical imaging, be that CT, MRI, any of that sort of imaging, what they do is they look at it in slices. So, they look at it like flipping through pictures in a picture book and they try to composite those images in 3D in their mind. This is a huge burden on them and requires a lot of training to do this. We take the images and put them in 3D so that they can view them organically. They can view them for diagnostics. They can view them for surgical planning and using augmented reality we can actually project those images on the patient so they can see them live during the procedure. So, they can see exactly where something like a tumor is without actually having to cut into you. This allows procedures to be much safer, much faster, and much much more effective.” Aris won Ignite the Night, and was invited to participate in NASA’s larger, more prestigious competition, the 2019 NASA iTech-Cycle I, which the company won two weeks ago.

Aris MD co-founders Scott Edgar and Chandra Devam have been friends since they met at a camp for gifted children when they were eleven years old. 
ARIS MD

“It was just mind-blowing,” Devam says of the NASA honor. “I could not be prouder of what we’ve done here.” The NASA competition started three years ago to find some of the best emerging private technology from across North America. NASA hopes to incorporate this new tech into its various research programs, including its goal of future space exploration.

It is hard for a small company to break into the medical field. The US market is especially difficult as it is unclear who pays for new technology and the training necessary to harness its powers. Nonetheless, with international pilots in the UK and the United States. Aris was able to raise $2M in seed capital from angel investors and has continued to make progress despite its small staff and modest funding. The NASA win put a rocket under the company, and has taken them to the heart of the aerospace industry, someplace they never thought they’d be.

“Our new friends and advisors immediately realized that Aris’ technology should work with industrial CT scanners,” explained Devam. “A technician can look inside a rocket engine on the launchpad without taking it apart.” Testing quickly revealed that Aris’ technology is indeed very effective. “People are calling it a breakthrough,” said Devam. “Because it is.”

Now that the word is starting to get out, Aris suddenly has new deal flow from every direction, not just the medical field. Aris is looking at licensing its technology for applications like inspecting infrastructure such as pipelines, construction, automotive, reactors, airplanes, and for structural integrity. “Pretty much anything that has been constructed, we could scan,” says Devam.

Aris MD can turn MRIs and CT scans into 3D images, allowing surgeons to literally look inside the body. 
ARIS MD

Still, says Devam, our hearts are in helping people. “As a business, we save our partners time and money, but in terms of patient care most of all what we’re doing is saving lives,” she said. “Hand held scanners can create a 3D environment in which a remote doctor can work on a real patient. We are just at the beginning of discovering what this technology can do to help humankind.”

Edmonton surgeons create cyborg tech to better transplant lungs and hearts

Dr. Darren Freed with a prototype ex vivo organ perfusion machine that was keeping swine lungs viable. The goal is to develop a better method to transport organs between donor and recipient on July 23, 2019. Photo by Shaughn Butts / Postmedia SHAUGHN BUTTS /POSTMEDIA

An inspirational story he heard as a child, a hot-rod car he loved as young man, and a desire to do something important with his life all helped propel Edmonton transplant surgeon Darren Freed to develop a transformative technology in organ transplantation.

Freed and his team at Tevosol, an Edmonton medical technology company, have built the prototype of a cyborg device that mimics the human body so that lungs can more easily survive outside the human body and be transplanted in excellent condition.

“It’s a robot donor, a machine donor,” says Freed’s partner, healthcare business expert Ron Mills.

The lungs are transplanted out of deceased patients into the cyborg chamber built to replicate what it’s like for lungs inside a healthy human body. There they can last for as long as 24 hours, about three times longer than current transplant technology permits.

If this multi-million dollar research project is successful — and there’s every indication from clinical trials that it will be — every single patient in Canada who is on the waiting list for new lungs and is in danger of dying could get the transplant they need.

The path to this achievement starts with Freed as a 12-year-old boy reading a news story about Baby Fae, the American infant born in 1984 with a diseased heart who underwent surgery, receiving the heart of a baboon. “I thought to myself, ‘I want to do that when I grow up,’ ” Freed says.

The main issue around transplant surgery for several decades now has been a lack of viable organs to transplant. Only three out of 1,000 deaths are in patients who are brain dead but with their other organs still working, the best case for preserving them for a short time for transplant. But out of those three in 1,000, just one in five will have lungs healthy enough to be used.

Freed and his partners, Mills and Dr. Jayan Nagendran, hope to double or triple the numbers for viable lung transplantation.

Freed built the first prototype in his car garage at home in 2015. He did all the coding for the machine, having taught himself the skill when he had to reprogram the computer in his 1988 Pontiac Fiero in order to turbocharge the engine.

Being a tinkerer, a musician, a coder and a surgeon provided Freed the skillset he needed to invent something new. “If you’re going to make a significant breakthrough, you have to be able to cross disciplines,” Freed says.

His stubbornness also helps, he adds:  “I’m too dumb to fail. I’m too dumb to figure out when something isn’t working and to give up.”

Freed first tested the device on pig lungs, then on 20 human lungs that had been rejected for transplant because they were too diseased. But on Freed’s machine, which allows for lungs to breathe naturally through pressure changes, these lungs actually improved in quality.

“The lung on the inside of the machine has to love it,” Freed says of the machine. “And the user on the outside of the machine has to love it as well, from all respects.”

The next step is to finish building a more user-friendly, portable and durable product, raise capital for Canada-wide testing, then take the prototype to a Montreal medical show and sell, sell, sell. Each unit will cost about $250,000, with a $12,000 disposable sterile kit for each transplant. In the United States, each transplant now costs $1 to $1.5 million. Mills hopes to have the product on the Canadian market next year and approved in the United States one year later.

In the end, of course, the success of the projects rests on how efficiently and economically the machine saves patients from certain death.

Indeed, death is a subject that came up regularly in my interview with Mills and Freed.

Death is front and centre in transplantation. A dead human is needed for lung donation and it’s  desperate and near-death patients who need them.

“We think about death a lot,” Mill said.

“It’s part of life,” Freed said. “This thing called life is a terminal disease. We’re all suffering from it. Think about that. It’s going to come to an end.”

“Jim Morrison said it,” Mills said, then quoted the American singer. “No one here gets out alive.”

What does Dr. Freed himself think about that fact?

“I’m dealing with it, right?” Freed said. “Make a contribution while we’re here. That’s how I think about it. Absolutely.”

On that count, I’d say Freed is most certainly hitting the mark.

Champion Petfoods Announces Leadership Additions

Blaine McPeak Named CEO and Greg Christenson Named CFO

EDMONTON, Alberta–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Champion Petfoods, maker of the award-winning ORIJEN and ACANA dog and cat foods, today announced that the Board of Directors has named Blaine McPeak as Chief Executive Officer. Additionally, Greg Christenson will fill the currently vacant role of Chief Financial Officer. Both executives will join Champion effective immediately. The Company’s Chief Operations Officer, John Frierott, who has been serving as interim CEO, will remain as COO.

McPeak brings more than 25 years of experience building brands and developing companies in the consumer packaged goods industry. He previously served as Chief Operating Officer of The WhiteWave Foods Company, a mission-centric company that achieved top-tier industry performance. There he built nascent brands such as Silk plant-based foods & beverages and Horizon Organic dairy products into industry leaders in their categories. Prior to joining WhiteWave, McPeak served 13 years at Kellogg Company where he led multiple divisions including being the inaugural leader for the Kashi Company.

Jim Walker, Chairman of the Board of Directors said, “During our search for a new CEO, there were several world-class executives interested in becoming CEO of Champion. What stood out about Blaine was his background as the architect behind building successful high-growth businesses and industry leading brands that appeal to health-conscious consumers. Our award-winning ORIJEN and ACANA brands are amongst the highest quality pet foods in the industry and already amongst the top choices of Pet Lovers everywhere. We are delighted that Blaine has agreed to lead the Champion team and further grow and distribute these top brands to ensure Pet Lovers everywhere can access these protein-rich foods and Biologically Appropriate diets for their pets.”

McPeak said, “I am honored to have the opportunity to lead Champion Petfoods into its next phase of growth in the vibrant pet foods industry and to work with a team so committed to advancing pet health. There’s so much runway for the business to leverage its award-winning kitchens, world-class research and innovation center, and high quality foods developed with the Biologically Appropriate principles.”

Christenson is an experienced executive with a history of building brands, delivering growth and driving profitability, most recently as Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Amplify Snack Brands where he led all financial and accounting functions. Prior to joining Amplify, he was Chief Financial Officer of WhiteWave and Chief Financial Officer and Vice President of Oberto Brands. He also spent 14 years at Kraft Foods in several leadership roles.

McPeak added, “We are fortunate to have someone as talented as Greg, whom I know well from our time together at WhiteWave, join the team as CFO. His deep experience in the consumer packaged goods industry working with premium brands will be a great addition to the leadership team.”

Christenson said, “I look forward to reuniting with Blaine and drawing on our successful working relationship. I’m excited to work with the entire Champion team to untap the full potential of the business.”

The Company’s Chief Operations Officer, John Frierott, had agreed several months ago to temporarily step in as interim CEO while a search was conducted for an executive with an established track record of building brands. Jim Walker said, “John has done an outstanding job over the last few months and he is looking forward to resuming his activities as the Company’s Chief Operations Officer working with Blaine and Greg.”

About Champion Petfoods

Champion Petfoods is an award-winning pet food maker with a reputation of trust spanning more than 30 years. Its ORIJEN and ACANA brands feature unmatched inclusions of fresh regional ingredients and are made exclusively in Champion’s own kitchens. Founded in the small town of Barrhead, Alberta, Champion now serves Pet Lovers in more than 90 countries around the world. To learn more, visit championpetfoods.com.

Stantec to lead design for Florida’s $212 million Turnpike reconstruction and capacity improvements

Widening of 10-mile section in Lake County will enable operation of price managed lanes for improved travel reliability

EDMONTON, Alberta & ORLANDO, Fla.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–The Florida Department of Transportation’s (FDOT) Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise (FTE), which operates its 461-mile system of limited access toll highways, has selected Stantec to design the reconstruction and capacity improvements for Florida’s Turnpike/State Road (SR) 91 in Lake County. Stantec’s design for the project, with a construction cost of $212 million, will increase the number of travel lanes from four to eight and will facilitate future express lane and electronic tolling operations within the 10-mile project area, from the Minneola interchange north to US 27.

“Over the last five years, we have seen a steady increase in the implementation of priced managed lanes across the country with demonstrated success in maintaining speed conditions and managing greater traffic volumes”

Priced managed lanes are gaining in popularity across the United States as a solution to improving travel capacity and reliability. According to the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association, 11 states currently operate priced managed lanes across a total of 686 center lane miles.

“Over the last five years, we have seen a steady increase in the implementation of priced managed lanes across the country with demonstrated success in maintaining speed conditions and managing greater traffic volumes,” said Steven Abendschein, senior principal and leader of Stantec’s Traffic and Revenue practice in New York. “There continues to be a tremendous opportunity for this tool in additional markets – particularly dense urban areas and growing mid-tier cities – to not only address roadway congestion, but also supplement infrastructure financing.”

Supporting a Larger Mission 
The 10-mile project is part of FTE’s comprehensive phased plan to widen 37 miles of the Turnpike within Lake and Orange Counties to address traveler safety, mobility, travel time reliability and future demand for capacity in response to anticipated population growth. According to state data, an annualized average of 40,800 motorists use the Turnpike daily, per 2010 data, at the Leesburg South (U.S. 27) Interchange. Adding to this demand is an anticipated 10,000 new homes planned within south Lake County and the surrounding area. This Turnpike project is one of several occurring across the state to improve mobility.

A Complex Project 
As part of the project scope, Stantec will lead design of the Turnpike widening, pavement restoration through milling and resurfacing, implementation of all-electronic tolling capabilities, design of future dynamically priced express lanes, emergency shoulder utilization, surveying, lighting, and environmental services. Supported by the firm’s national-reaching expertise in transportation, limited access toll facility design and traffic revenue services, a local team from Stantec’s Orlando office will lead this project with statewide support from teams in Deerfield, Coral Gables, Tallahassee, and West Palm Beach. Project design is anticipated for completion January 2022.

The Most Recent in a Series of FDOT Initiatives 
Stantec has a long history of helping FDOT to deliver on its vision for improved transportation mobility across the state. Stantec teams worked on the $140 million I-95 Express Lanes project Phase 1A and 1B – the first of its kind in South Florida – which transformed High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes in Miami-Dade County to dynamically priced express lanes, launching a system of express lanes to support the region’s mobility needs in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties. Additional project work has included the widening and expansion of the Homestead Extension of Florida’s Turnpike from SR 874 to SR 836, the 595 Express in Broward County, the implementation of express lanes along I-95 in Broward and Palm Beach Counties, and planning and design for the widening and expansion of the Sawgrass Expressway in Broward County. Together, these corridors form a portion of the Regional Express Lanes System in South Florida.

“We are proud to continue our 15-year relationship with the FTE delivering innovative, cost-effective solutions to maintain the safety and beneficial life of these roadways,” said Robert Carballo, Stantec vice president, US Gulf regional business leader for Transportation. “The widening of Florida’s Turnpike will support FTE’s goals in modernizing this essential roadway and contributing to a growing statewide network of efficient transportation offerings.”

Nationally, Stantec has played a key role in major managed lane projects, including leading the Illinois I-55 managed lane study and the traffic and revenue study for SR 91 Express Lanes in California’s Orange and Riverside Counties.

Stantec’s Transportation practice creates the connections that get people and goods moving safely and efficiently — whether by car, bus, train, plane, or their own two feet. Ranked among the top-10 International Design Firms in Transportation by Engineering News-Record, Stantec provides planning, engineering, and infrastructure management services that fit client needs and improve the overall transportation experience. To learn more, visit: stantec.com/transportation

About Stantec

Communities are fundamental. Whether around the corner or across the globe, they provide a foundation, a sense of place and of belonging. That’s why at Stantec, we always design with community in mind.

We care about the communities we serve—because they’re our communities too. This allows us to assess what’s needed and connect our expertise, to appreciate nuances and envision what’s never been considered, to bring together diverse perspectives so we can collaborate toward a shared success.

We’re designers, engineers, scientists, and project managers, innovating together at the intersection of community, creativity, and client relationships. Balancing these priorities results in projects that advance the quality of life in communities across the globe.

‘Powerful and potent’: Big Edmonton food buyers team up to buy local

Working group taps into institutions’ large purchasing power to influence supply chain

Alberta Flavour found that some food purchasers didn’t know which local products were available in the province. (Josee St-Onge/CBC)

Large institutions, from hospitals and colleges to the Edmonton Convention Centre, are looking at ways to boost their purchases of local food products.

The answer, according to a working group called Alberta Flavour, lies in a coordinated approach between producers, distributors and the institutions that purchase meat, vegetables and other food items in large quantities.

The working group has been meeting for about three years to increase the amount of locally-produced food purchased by colleges, universities and other large institutions with food-service operations.

“If you do want to scale up local food within the larger food system, institutional procurement is a really powerful and potent way to do that,” said University of Alberta researcher Mary Beckie. 

Partners in Alberta Flavour include Northlands, NAIT, the University of Alberta, Alberta Health Services and the Edmonton Convention Centre, among others.

Beckie’s research on the impact of Alberta Flavour was commissioned by the group and published in Canadian Food Studies in January.

She found that institutions benefited from sharing their solutions to common problems, such as finding enough local supply. 

The group also included large distributors, as they act as an intermediary between farmers and purchasers, Beckie told CBC in a recent interview. 

“If you don’t have those distributors on board there’s going to be a problem with institutions accessing the amount.”

Everybody knew that they could buy Alberta beef. They didn’t always know that they could get Alberta sugar, or Alberta bread or canola oil.- Jessie Radies, Northlands

NAIT purchases around $3 million worth of food each year. Between 25 and 30 per cent is sourced locally, said Kim Allen, NAIT’s assistant manager of supply-chain management.

“We like to incorporate ourselves into the community that we are living in,” Allen said. “Supporting local food is part of that.”

But purchasing local food on such a large scale is a challenge, Allen said, and each institution operates differently. 

Knowing that, Alberta Flavour focused on exchanging ideas and solutions, said Jessie Radies, Northlands’ director of agriculture.

Mary Beckie (left) and Jessie Radies (right) are members of Alberta Flavour, a group that fosters more local purchasing from institutions. (Josee St-Onge/CBC)

“It may not be a problem that you work collaboratively to solve, but there may be someone else in that group that has solved it for their organization,” Radies said.

“We really use the knowledge within the group to help others advance their purchasing in a way that makes sense for their organization.”

Part of Alberta Flavour’s approach was to familiarize purchasers with which foods are available in Alberta.

“Everybody knew that they could buy Alberta beef,” Radies said. “They didn’t always know that they could get Alberta sugar, or Alberta bread, or canola oil that came from Alberta.”

The group also worked with large distribution companies, which increased their local purchasing and started identifying local food in their catalogues.

Alberta Flavour now wants to shift its focus to improving the supply chain, and filling some of the gaps between farmer and purchaser.

The group has applied for provincial and federal funding in order to launch a pilot project, which would include hiring a supply coordinator to work with institutions, said Beckie.

“It’s a pull-through effect all along the supply chain when you can increase demand.”

The significant purchasing power of institutions also enables them to push for more sustainable practices, including looking at how food is grown and packaged, Allen said.

“Large institutions like us, we have more of a voice with distributors,” Allen said. “We can influence behaviour in that way.”

Trans Mountain triggering interest in warehouse space

The Trans Mountain Corporation’s Edmonton Terminal, Wednesday June 19, 2019. DAVID_BLOOM DAVID BLOOM / DAVID BLOOM/POSTMEDIA

Some Edmonton developers are honing in on the construction of warehouse space in the wake of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, suggests a new report tracking the area’s real estate market.

“I think that the market itself is stabilized, there are some areas that still may have a little bit more concern, but for the most part I believe we are through the worst of it. We’ve gone through a tough run, but we’re not going to evaporate,” Dave Young, executive vice president and managing director at real estate and investment services firm CBRE, said this week.

The pipeline expansion creates jobs, and jobs demand the need for space, said Young, adding the latest numbers are sparking cautious optimism.

Edmonton has 1.9 million square feet of industrial product currently under construction. In the second quarter, 672,802 square feet of new industrial space became available in Edmonton, the majority of which came with the completion of MTE Logistix’s 500,000-square-foot warehouse.

“In anticipation of significant demand for warehouse space resulting from the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, some developers are considering launching projects on a speculative basis,” notes the CBRE report.

And with an 8.2 per cent availability rate, “our industrial market is very healthy,” adds Young.

The National Energy Board (NEB) on Friday cleared the way for construction to resume on portions of the Trans Mountain project between Edmonton and metro Vancouver by re-validating all the orders and decisions it received before its permits were overturned last year.

But Edmonton is not a one-trick pony, notes Young.

“We’re only third to Toronto and Vancouver in terms of economic diversification,” he said, noting part of that diversification will come from fostering a network of locally based tech companies.

The tech hubs of Vancouver and Toronto now share the title of North America’s hottest office markets. Vancouver’s office vacancy rate dropped to 2.6 per cent in the second quarter of 2019, from 4.7 per cent only a year ago. Toronto’s downtown office vacancy rate remained stable at 2.6 per cent amid a construction boom in the city’s core, shows the CBRE report.

“There needs to be that network or ecosystem that exists. Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, they have that and continue to grow it. We’re now starting to see it. I can see in the future more tech companies choosing our market, not because of the price of office space, but because of the ecosystem,” said Young.

New technologies in the energy sector and in artificial intelligence in particular will be key to Edmonton, said Young. Research and human resources coming out of the University of Alberta, NorQuest, MacEwan University, and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) are strengthening Edmonton’s prospects.

The report also shows increased interest from technology firms for quality downtown Edmonton office space, including interest from software and research and development companies. Many tenants are looking for newer, more efficient office space, making some older buildings obsolete. They’re also looking to locate beside similar and complementary companies — especially in the tech sector, said Young.

And while Edmonton’s overall office market vacancy rate increased, the report notes that more suburban office space was leased up — some 30,984 square feet — than was made available on the market in the second quarter of 2019.

“Building off last year’s momentum, when the market recorded its first annual positive absorption since 2015, there is renewed optimism for suburban assets,” states the report.

Former NAIT boss making his name in furniture

Former NAIT President Sam Shaw is applying his educational acumen to the furniture business. GRAHAM HICKS/EDMONTON SUN

The Energizer Bunny is back.

Sam Shaw made quite the name for himself and NAIT (Northern Alberta Institute of Technology) when he headed up the educational institution for 13 years, from 1997 to 2010.

He was here, there and everywhere – running and modernizing Alberta’s biggest post-secondary school,  chairing the city’s United Way campaign, being honourary colonel of the CFB Edmonton’s 408 Tactical Helicopter Squadron, chairing this committee, that committee, fund-raising for worthy causes.

His imprint on the community was such that in 2004, Venture business magazine named him Alberta’s Business Person of the Year.

Fast-forward nine years:  Shaw had moved his family to Calgary after his NAIT days, where he was vice president of policy development with the Encana energy company.

But he now holds dual-city citizenship, for in early 2017, he and his son Clayton purchased Edmonton-based Allwest Furnishings. He’s usually in Edmonton four days a week.

Both are actively running the well-known furnishing company, Sam as owner and board chair.

“I’ve always loved business,” says Sam, as effervescent as ever. “I love finding solutions, changing the way we work, creating quality-rich environments in which employees can flourish.”

The opportunity fell into Sam’s lap. He’d been as busy as ever – Encana for three years, setting up colleges in the United Arab Emirates, testing political waters, building indigenous educational opportunities through Yellowhead Tribal College.

Out of the blue, previous Allwest owner Colin Eichart approached him. “Colin was ready to fully retire. He came to me and said, ‘I want to sell Allwest to you.”

After a career of  training/educating students for business, Shaw plunged into business itself. No steady pay cheque and guaranteed benefits here. He used his own savings to finance  the hefty purchase.

“It’s been great,” says Sam, “There’s so much room for creativity. And in my wildest dreams, I never thought I’d be working side by side with my son and daughter.” (Shaw has a side company with his  daughter Robyn Shaw-Silva. TGIM The Monday Club delivers fun desk-top accessories to subscribers on a monthly basis.)

What else would you expect Sam to say?

He is the ultimate optimist. If a mountain of dung was dumped on his driveway, Shaw would figure out how to transform it into compost, into an insect farm for protein powder, into a training centre for poop-to-nutrient conversion, all the while spouting aphorisms such as “Gratitude is riches. Complaint is poverty.”

Having purchased Allwest, Sam & son sprang into action.

The website has been re-designed, the name changed from Allwest Commercial Furnishings to Allwest Furnishings. Visuals, aesthetics, vibes, colours – all aligned to reflect Allwest’s new motto, “We change the way people work.”

A major contract – office  furnishings and solutions for Stantec Engineering’s multiple floors in the new Stantec Tower – was followed by a global deal between Stantec and Allwest’s chief supplier, Canadian furniture manufacturer Teknion, to provide furnishings for Stantec’s 400 offices world-wide.

Ever the thinker, Shaw sees Allwest’s holistic approach opening doors in both the education and extended-care spheres. “What better way to impact learning than providing chairs that feel good to sit in, or maker-stations that truly benefit students?  In extended health care, great chairs are crucial.

“It’s so much more than products,” says Sam. “It’s about a philosophy, ergonomics, organizational behavior, sophisticated technology, well-trained staff.

“It’s about wellness. Through lighting, colours, air quality, physical lay-outs, creating a state-of-mind that ensures maximum productivity.  Lower the friction!”

But Sam, with the four-year-long slump in the Alberta economy, hasn’t it been a slog?

“The economy is what it is,” he says.  “If the cup’s half-full … fill it up!  It’s not the size of the revenue coming in today, it’s the size of the opportunities we need to pursue.”

Sam Shaw may be back, in business this time. But he’s still an educator at heart. I’d argue he is using Allwest as a unique, for-profit,  behavior-enhancement laboratory.

Will his advanced ideas on creating “wellness” work environments  pan out? In the cold hard realities of business, will the added productivity per employee offset the costs of an all-inclusive work environment?

Kudos to Shaw. Through Allwest, he is putting his money firmly behind his ideas.

It’s rocket engineering, not rocket science

Meet the UAlberta engineer who designed heat shields to protect Apollo astronauts

UAlberta engineering alumnus Bryan Erb, seen here with the Apollo 17 re-entry capsule, designed the heat shields used on the Apollo space missions, ensuring a safe return for astronauts.

It was July 20, 1969, and the first humans to set foot on the moon were dilly-dallying. Experiencing one-sixth gravity for the first time, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were skipping and jumping across the lunar surface.

Watching them on his television 384,400 kilometres away in the town of El Lago, Texas, Bryan Erb was scolding the astronauts for “cavorting” instead of getting down to business and gathering lunar rocks.

“Quite subconsciously I found myself shouting at the TV: ‘Quit jumping around, and pick up the damned rocks!’”

As a key member of the Apollo programs, Erb had a vested interest in seeing the astronauts gather rocks quickly in case an emergency struck and they had to leave the moon prematurely.

Erb, who graduated with a degree in civil engineering from the University of Alberta in 1952, designed heat shields for the Apollo spacecraft, protecting the lives of the astronauts as they re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere at 40,000 km/h.

This week, as the world marks the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, the first manned mission to the moon, Erb looks back with a sense of pride and nostalgia.

“It was a very exciting event. It’s one of those moments that changes people’s mindset as to where humanity fits into the universe and what our destiny might be,” he said.

In the early days of NASA’s manned space missions, engineers and astronauts lived and worked together in communities near what is now the Johnson Space Center in Texas.

“We lived in El Lago and there were a lot of astronauts around, a dime a dozen, and it was no big deal. Jan Armstrong (the wife of astronaut Neil Armstrong) was our daughter’s swim coach down at the pool,” he recalled. “It was a great community.”

Erb was inspired, as a fifth-grade student growing up in Calgary, to become involved in space exploration. A school guest speaker who had travelled the world shared his stories with the students, but his reference to future space travel struck a chord with Erb.

“He said ‘One day, man, we’re going to go to the moon.’ And that really stuck in my mind.”

After graduating with his civil engineering degree, Erb went on to complete two Master’s degrees—one at the College of Aeronautics in the U.K. (now Cranfield University) and a second back at the U of A, in fluid mechanics. In the U.K., he said, “I specifically chose re-entry into the atmosphere as my area of study because I knew that if we were going to travel to the moon, we’d need to come back.”

He was also a Sloan Fellow at MIT, earning a Master’s in Management. In 1990 the U of A presented Erb with an Honorary Degree.

Erb made many contributions to space exploration. He devised the “barbecue” method of thermal balance for the Apollo flights—rotating the spacecraft on its horizontal axis to keep it evenly heated and exposed to solar radiation. He played a major role in activating the Lunar Receiving Laboratory, where Apollo astronauts were quarantined and lunar material was examined. Later, he managed a project that used satellite data to conduct the first world-scale inventory of wheat. Following his retirement from NASA, Erb joined the Canadian Space Agency and represented Canada on the Space Station Program at the Johnson Space Center.

Inspiring innovative alumni to dream big and keep trying

Donor generosity supports entrepreneurs through ups and downs

Donors Dr. Ray Muzyka and Leona De Boer speak with entrepreneurs at a ThresholdImpact University of Alberta Venture Mentoring Service event. The couple’s gift to the university will make it possible for more alumni to benefit from the program.

After graduating from the University of Alberta, Kieran Ryan, ’08 BSc, was living in central Calgary, walking to his job in the oil industry. A new car service in the city meant he didn’t need to own a car, a novel experience. Ryan and another grad decided to take the car-sharing idea back to Edmonton.

“We bought two cars and tested it out,” recalls Ryan. Their company, Pogo CarShare, launched with 10 cars and quickly grew to a fleet of 80. The company owns and pays for the costs related to owning a car (registration, insurance, repairs and gas) and the customer pays a fee to use the car for short-term or long-term trips.

But starting and running a business is stressful, and growing a company means dealing constantly with new challenges, such as building a team. Three months after launching Pogo, Ryan and his team heard about the Venture Mentoring Service (VMS).

VMS is run by the University of Alberta Alumni Association and provides support to alumni, faculty and staff through group mentorship. Through the program, startup teams are matched with a group of successful entrepreneurs and business leaders. Working with these highly experienced mentors cultivates strong business leaders, who can grow their ventures — and their impact on the world.

The impact is about to get much bigger, thanks to the generosity of Dr. Ray Muzyka, ’90 BMedSc, ’92 MD, and Leona De Boer, ’91 BSc(AgBus), who have donated $1 million to the university to support mentorship, training and the VMS program.

De Boer and Muzyka firmly believe in the power of mentorship and believe they would have benefited from a program like VMS during their career transitions — De Boer as she moved through a career in commercial banking as a senior banker at TD and Muzyka as he co-founded, grew and led the gaming giant BioWare after a career in family and rural emergency medicine.

Muzyka was the founding chair of VMS and remains the chair of its advisory board, as well as serving on multiple mentor teams. To date VMS has connected more than 61 venture teams with 108 mentors. The demand is high — the program has a waitlist both for entrepreneurs wanting to enter the program and mentors wanting to provide mentorship support.

“Entrepreneurship is lonely and challenging, and it can be difficult to see the best path forward,” says Muzyka. “Combining diverse, experienced perspectives shines a light for entrepreneurs, illuminating more options. Group mentorship through VMS provides new viewpoints through coaching, by asking the right questions.”

De Boer finds reward in helping to build a stronger business community through VMS. “When focused on the day-to-day, it’s easy to get into a certain groove. Programs like VMS allow entrepreneurs to think creatively and find other solutions.”

Talking with mentors made a big difference to Ryan and the Pogo CarShare team. “VMS really helped us to mature as entrepreneurs,” says Ryan. “We had the support of smart people with great experience willing to sit down and chat about the business. It was amazing to have access to that kind of sounding board.”

To honour the donation from De Boer and Muzyka, the U of A program is now called the ThresholdImpact University of Alberta Venture Mentoring Service. The couple founded ThresholdImpact, an angel investment company focusing on impact investments in disruptive information technology, new media and medical innovations with social entrepreneurs who are passionate and capable.

“The mission of the VMS program is to develop, empower and inspire U of A alumni to become successful entrepreneurs and leaders,” says Sean Price, associate vice-president of Alumni Relations. “This generous gift will enable us to expand the breadth of the program and support more entrepreneurs.”

Visit the ThresholdImpact University of Alberta Venture Mentoring Service website to learn more about applying for mentorship or becoming a mentor. 

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