My Heart Belongs in Edmonton
Over the course of my career I’ve been fortunate to travel to, and work in so many wonderful cities. My first business trip came when I was in my early 20’s working at Weyerhaeuser with a visit to Vancouver to meet our export partners. Later, from 2000 to 2015 while at Intuit, makers of TurboTax and QuickBooks, I was lucky to travel the world exploring new countries as we worked to expand into new markets.
With each city I visited came exciting delights and discoveries. From the incredible subway systems of the UK, to the central business districts of Australia, and the thriving downtown food courts of Singapore each city I explored had me admiring the city planning and design. Yet, despite all of these wonders my heart has always pulled me back home to Edmonton.
So it was an easy decision to pick Edmonton as my forever home, where I’d build a life, raise my family, and pursue my career. When I get asked, and I often do, about why I deliberately chose Edmonton my answer always centres on our community, our unique startup culture, our festivals, and of course, my family.
Monday marked the start of Chinatown Dining Week. As I eagerly sat down to review the list of amazing restaurants participating and optimize my dining plan for the week I came across the Hong Kong Bakery and a flood of childhood memories rushed back to me. I had to pause and take some time as I reflected on how much I miss my Dad.
My first job was as a server at the Smitty’s in Kingsway Mall. I was fifteen years old and what I really cared about was how much tip money I left with at the end of my shift. To me, better tips meant the difference between K-mart or Jordache brand jeans.
I quickly learned that I got the best tips when my customers felt I really cared deeply about their experience. Having them leave happy meant I needed to not only figure out exactly what they wanted but anticipate and deliver it impeccably.
Looking back now on the decade I spent as a full-time and later part-time server (to give myself a little extra cash after rent) I realize how much that job taught me about customer service. What seemed like common sense at the time, anticipating and listening to customer needs and delivering the best experience I could, I now understand as both an art and a science.
When I launched my campaign to run for Mayor of Edmonton on the 13th of October, I committed myself to listening first. It’s now been six weeks and I am grateful for all the thoughtful conversations I’ve had and messages I’m receiving from Edmontonians who are as passionate and fired up about our city as I am.
Above all, I’ve heard an unwavering belief that we live in a great city with so much potential to be even better. Edmontonians have told me that they’re looking for a champion for our city, one that understands the core needs of its residents and their day-to-day lives. They’re in search of city leadership that brings a ‘yes, and’ mentality, who roots their decisions in a deep understanding of the lived experiences of Edmontonians from every corner of the city.
I’ve heard that current city leadership brings the burden and biases of the bureaucracy and how important it is for me to be meaningfully engaged with communities and committed to being curious and willing to learn.
Here’s a snapshot of what I’ve heard:
There have been a handful of times throughout my life where my hardest learned lessons have been the most important. One example I’ve often reflected back on took place in the fall of 2018. As the founder and VP of Innovate Edmonton, I was leading the charge and pushing forward the concept of a new Innovation Hub in our downtown.
The idea was simple, provide an environment to house companies at all stages of growth and enable better access to key networks, investors, programming, and support. It was intended to increase growth both in that sector and for Edmonton’s economy as a whole. By centralizing a physical space for startups it would create collisions of ideas and projects, ignite collaborations, and support organizations as they scale-up. This wasn’t a new idea, rather it was a best practice that had been employed by leading tech cities around the world (think MaRS in Toronto).
To say I was excited about this project would be an understatement. There was a group of us that saw this as a means of giving Edmonton an even stronger footing in the global innovation and tech sphere. We committed to involving the already strong local tech community as we took strides to secure a building and further build out our plans.
Unfortunately, we had charged ahead when we should have stopped, expanded the group we were consulting, and tested the idea more broadly. We were well down the path when we began to hear that there was a major disconnect between our vision of this Innovation Hub and what Edmonton’s emerging tech community felt they needed most. Upon reflection, we had allowed our own perceptions to guide decisions that would affect an entire community. While we did bring groups in for consultation, it was well after the project was in motion.
My name is Cheryll Watson and I love this city.
I’m a born-and-raised Edmontonian, and a proud Northside girl. I grew up in the community of Beverly and I made the choice to stay in Edmonton, to build a family, life and career here. But recently, I’ve come to the realization that as a community we’re at an important and critical inflection point.