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Imagine Alberta: endless fields of wheat, an array of ice-capped mountains, dazzling glacial lakes, and cows galore. Despite its wide perception as a wilderness province, Alberta is now seeing a surge in population growth, business investments, and employment opportunities.

In the southern portion of the province lies Calgary, a city that Mayor Naheed Nenshi has helped place on the map as a global force in the energy market. For three years Nenshi has led a city that now boasts 14 per cent of all jobs in Canada, and more than 200,000 employment opportunities are expected to emerge over the balance of this decade. A self-professed lover and avid user of transit systems, Nenshi says he is proud to live and work in one of the youngest and highest-educated workforces in the country.  

Calgary is one of the few places in the world where our primary concern right now is not unemployment but, in fact, a labour crunch, says Nenshi. We have the second largest concentration of head offices in Canada, not only in the energy industry, but in everything from transportation logistics to consumer goods, and, of course, finance and tourism and hospitality.

Opportunities are endless

Voted sexiest and most beloved Calgarian in this year's Best of Calgary poll, Nenshi jokes, if you're an eye doctor, there's a shortage.

But Calgary isn't Alberta's only hub seeking young, innovative, and hardworking thinkers. According to the Alberta Energy website, the province ranks third, after Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, in proven global crude oil reserves. About 98 per cent of Canada's oil reserves cover 140,200 square kilometres of land in the Athabasca, Cold Lake, and Peace River areas in Northern Alberta. According to Nenshi, the world's brightest chemical and environmental engineers are flocking to the province to show off their knowledge and ideally boost Canada's energy economy.  

If you're an environmental engineer, there's nowhere you'd rather work than in the oil sands industry because the opportunity is huge to make a big difference, says Nenshi. So there is no reason that we should not also be the centre of alternative energy in the world because we have people who know energy better than anybody else.

Electricity strikes

According to Nenshi, approximately 80 per cent of Canadians live in urban centres. As such, he encourages Calgarians and other curious Canadians to be a part of the energy.

We're not just talking about the energy industry; we're talking about something that everyone in Calgary notices right away, says Nenshi. And that is the excitement and electricity in the air'the fact that there is an attitude that anything is possible and everyone can succeed.

According to Nenshi, Calgary's current challenge is to attract and retain the best engineers and graduating artists globally. And when it comes to energy production and job opportunities, it's the cities that draw global talent, not just the country.

Addressing negative criticism of the future of Alberta's oil, gas, and energy sector, Nenshi remains optimistic: Yes, we happen to have a natural resourceÔÇôbased economy. Let's not begrudge that. It's the hand we've been dealt and it's our job as Canadians to figure out how best to play that hand. But you know what? It's a really good hand. We've been dealt a royal flush on the first deal. Let's figure out what we do with that in a thoughtful public policy way to ensure prosperity for all Canadians.

Photo: knapjames/Thinkstock