Alberta’s Capital City has always been a place of commerce. In 1976, a campsite was discovered overlooking the River Valley. The site, which dates back to 3000 – 500 BCE, contained stone tools and other indicators that pointed to a regular meeting place for semi-nomadic Aboriginals. In 1795, Hudson Bay Company established the first of the regions’ trading posts (near Fort Saskatchewan), and by 1921 Fort Edmonton became the centre of the province’s western fur trade.
Edmonton’s population boomed through the early 1900s, as the city entered a period of prosperity based on strong agricultural trade. In the 1940s, the economy’s growth shifted to include the trade of wholesale goods, and the processing of agricultural and meat products. Transport also entered the market as the new air centre made trans-Canada flights, and flights up North from Edmonton, a reality.
After a brief stint as a base for northern military operations during the Second World War, Edmonton settled into its most prevailing role to date – a major centre for Canada’s oil and gas industry.
All this economic prosperity and growth meant the men and women running Edmonton’s businesses needed a way to meet, plan, network, strategize and keep the city’s economy moving forward, while also advocating for its products and services to enter new markets and policies designed to encourage growth.
“In my experience, the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce is one of the few that has the ability to impact the business world in a positive way for both city and province,” says the new Chamber chair, James Merkosky. “The Chamber relies on committees that have a wealth of knowledge, and the ability of the Chamber to have meaningful impact in the business and social work in our city and province is vitally important.”
Merkosky himself began his work with the Chamber through a committee, even though his early career aspirations had him flying in a completely different direction.
“As a kid, I wanted to be pilot,” he laughs. But he went to university to study commerce, accounting and taxation. “Being a fighter pilot and a tax guy is not the same, but it’s been an interesting ride,” he admits with his wry sense of humour.
Instead of fighting the bad guys in the sky, Merkosky stays grounded by performing superhero feats of a different sort – cross border and American taxes in his role as partner, tax services, at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. “It’s interesting work I ended up doing. I love it.”
Merkosky, after moving from Saskatchewan, wanted to get involved in the Edmonton community. When an opportunity came up with the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce to sit on the tax committee, he was happy to step up to the challenge. This led to a seat on the board, and as of 2017, the board chair.
“The Chamber of Commerce has been outstanding to work with,” Merkosky says happily. “Joining the board and becoming the chair is a real career highlight. It’s one of the higher profile organizations in the city and it’s very well-respected. To have that kind of impact is a good career highlight in and of itself.”
He’s ready for the challenges that come with the positon, both in balancing the time commitment that comes along with a family that includes five children, and the current state of the economy that sees Edmonton’s business community struggling with the recession.
“The business environment in Alberta is big right now. There are major issues on the table and working through them will be interesting; we certainly need to get it right. The Alberta economy needs a turnaround, to say the least.”
Regardless, he’s excited about what can be done. “The Chamber is full of interesting people and interesting opportunities that go along with it. When you are the board chair of an organization, you get to have an impact on all the things that are happening. It will be an interesting and fun year.”
To the business community, he says, “We all live in Edmonton and can sit on our hands and do nothing, but if you get involved, you can make an impact. Why not get involved? Be engaged in a big way in everything you are doing. The Chamber has an excellent board, excellent committees, outstanding staff and a really strong team that keeps the organization running smoothly. The Chamber has lots of luncheons and activities, and we have the opportunity to bring in key speakers and more. It’s an excellent group to work with. [You can join and] make a difference in the community.
“The Chamber is going to be extremely relevant in the upcoming years. Alberta and Edmonton have challenges in terms of economy. Being focused, being the voice of business and taking into account the impact on the city in the provincial and national levels is important. We will be making decisions that impact the long-term view for the province. These are interesting times, to say the least.”
His commitments to work and family never hold him back from investing in the community, both on a personal and family level, and through PricewaterhouseCoopers’s charitable initiatives. He’s also been part of the Old Strathcona Youth Society for years, after being introduced to the Society through his wife and brother-in-law, who are both social workers. “It’s different from the business world and has a big impact on people that need assistance,” Merkosky says of why he enjoys working with the Society.
He’s very involved in his church and his hobbies of music and hockey – hobbies he balances around time with his family.
“Chasing our five kids around is pretty much a full time job,” he admits with a smile. “The kids are in dance, hockey, band, rugby, etc. Also, as a family, we love to travel and go on camping trips.”
How does he balance it all?
“Work/life balance: that’s a tough one!” Merkosky muses. “At the end of the day, you just have to be flexible. My wife has a calendar at home. If it’s not in the calendar, it doesn’t happen. The key is being flexible and making choices as to where you spend your time. In a career in public accounting, there are some deadlines to work around. It really just comes down to being organized, flexible and knowing how to prioritize your time.”
Merkosky is extremely grateful for his wife and her role in supporting him, his career and their family.
“She looks after a lot and keeps the family running. Without her doing that, we wouldn’t survive on a day- to-day basis.” He’s not above a little mischief, though! “I have an identical twin brother and he’s in the city as well. We get into a lot of fun. He’s a good sounding board. We talk about a lot of things.”
The business and family man has a lot going on, but he doesn’t seek out recognition for his hard work. “It’s more or less, for me, just being a successful dad, being able to be a good professional for our clients and working well as the chair.”
Merkosky is more than ready for his year as Chamber Chair, and as he looks forward to making a positive impact on the city, the Chamber, the business community and the province, he speaks to the near future: “In terms of work, I look forward to just continuing on. In terms of home, our kids are going through various stages. I now have four teenagers! In terms of volunteering, I will continue to be involved in the Chamber after my tenure as chair by sitting on other boards. I will also continue to volunteer with other organizations. It’s key to be engaged in the community you are living in.”
He closes with his signature grin, “For me, it’s going to be an exciting year. I’ve got the backing of the PricewaterhouseCoopers partners, and wife and family. I’m really looking forward to it.”