A San Francisco-based tech company will open its first Canadian office in downtown Calgary, a development it says is the direct result of Calgary Economic Development’s intensive recruitment campaign in Silicon Valley.
RocketSpace — which has a global network of technology campuses designed to connect corporate clients with technology entrepreneurs and startups — confirmed it will move into 75,000 square feet of office space in the 9th Avenue SW downtown tower formerly known as Encana Place.
While running the location will only require eight to 10 employees, the Calgary RocketSpace office will provide co-working space for up to 1,000 startup clients and give entrepreneurs the chance to connect with mentors, advisers, investors and RocketSpace’s network of corporate partners.
While other cities were considered for RocketSpace’s Canadian launch, said CEO Duncan Logan, the company was impressed by Calgary’s sales pitch.
In early April, Calgary Economic Development CEO Mary Moran, as well as Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Alberta Minister of Economic Development and Trade Deron Bilous visited Silicon Valley in an effort to lure technology firms north. Logan said that visit — and his own return visit to Calgary a few weeks later — “massively impacted” the company’s decision on location.
“To be honest, RocketSpace gets visited from a city or a country delegation on a weekly basis … and usually it’s all great talk and little action,” Logan said. “But when we met with the team from Calgary, they were like, ‘how do we make this happen?’ I was blown away by all the meetings and appointments and introductions they put together.”
Logan added the company was impressed by the availability of talent and technical expertise in Calgary, as well as the large number of corporate headquarters in the city. RocketSpace also quickly formed a relationship with commercial landlord Aspen Properties, which owns the former Encana Place building and has been redeveloping it with an eye to making it more attractive to technology firms and smaller, innovative companies.
The 25-storey building — which was the home of 1,200 Encana employees before that company moved into The Bow tower — was empty when Aspen Properties bought it in 2015, said Aspen’s executive chairman Scott Hutcheson. Today, only two of the 25 floors are occupied, but Hutcheson said his company has been working hard to reposition the building for a changing market — incorporating unusual features like a putting green, basketball court, golf simulator, and indoor dog park for tenants’ canine companions into the redesign.
“It’s where we think the office building market will go. We don’t think the old, corporate, staid office building is the office building of the future,” Hutcheson said. “We’re really trying to create a building for millennials, which resonated perfectly with the RocketSpace guys.”
While RocketSpace will not receive any government subsidies or tax breaks as a result of its decision to choose Calgary, Hutcheson said Aspen Properties has chosen to invest in the company’s business model.
“It’s not novel for a landlord, it happens quite often in the retail space,” Hutcheson said. “But it is quite novel for downtown office space. We will have more of a partner relationship, rather than a landlord-tenant relationship where all we do is collect rent.”
The recruitment of RocketSpace marks the first win for Calgary Economic Development in the Silicon Valley as it tries to fill some of the 13 million square feet of vacant office space currently available in the city’s downtown core. The organization launched an aggressive sales strategy in 2016 aimed at trying to lure satellite offices and company headquarters to Calgary from other jurisdictions — an initiative supported by $10 million over three years in one-time funding from the City of Calgary, the government of Alberta and the federal government.
Calgary Economic Development president and CEO Mary Moran said the organization has hosted a number of other companies in recent weeks who are “very, very close” to signing leases with downtown landlords. While she cautioned that none of the companies are big, they like the market and the available talent and are excited about Calgary’s future as a technology hub.
“Filling this office space is a long game,” Moran said. “Some people may say, ‘these are just little things,’ but little things can lead to big things. And we know this is where the job growth will come from in the future — it’s going to come from smaller companies with 50 employees or less.”