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Who You Gonna Call?


John Liston

On February 24th, 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine. These crimes against humanity have triggered Europe’s largest refugee crisis since World War II, with more than 4.1 million Ukrainians leaving the country and a quarter of the population displaced. At time of writing the people of Poland have taken in 2.8 million people, and the resulting pressure on their infrastructure is leaving food shelves bare and supplies reduced.

On March 10th former Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk of Polish descent, and former Premier Ed Stelmach of Ukraine descent, got on the phone and talked about how they could help. The obvious need was for food, medical supplies, hygiene products, etc. but how to gather them and how to get them there? As is so often the case, the phone calls go out to the business communities around the world.

Thomas Lukaszuk decided to start with a long shot, a cold call to the president of LOT Airlines, the national air carrier of Poland. “I need a plane” was the ask. “What for?” was the response. “To bring supplies to Poland to help the evacuees and our Polish friends caring for them.” Without hesitation, “The answer is yes, how big a plane do you need?” After a quick assessment, the 787 Dreamliner was booked. A small problem, LOT doesn’t fly to Edmonton. EIA then jumped on board and went to work. They were outstanding in gathering their team of partner companies who offered services, hotel rooms, suggestions – and all hands were on deck.

It is a simple formula; the world has problems, businesspeople step up. Over and over.

The LOT president asked if we could re-fuel the plane. Enter Shell Canada who offered to foot the bill for the great Alberta produced fuel that filled the plane. The cost of the trip with pilots, staff, etc. was over $150,000. One call to a business leader, and he gathered a group of business folks to cover that expense.

Alberta Enterprise Group, a collection of over 100 businesses that employ over 100,000 Canadians offered to get the word out. They hosted a podcast with Premier Stelmach and sent out a list of needs to the member companies. Within seconds the emails and calls were buzzing. “What do you need, where do you need it?” They stepped up in large amounts. The first need was warehouse space. That was almost immediate. Transportation and logistics companies were on it. MTE Logistics, NexGen Transportation, Encore Trucking and more. Then the need was pallets. Knelsen Sand & Gravel and other companies jumped in. Groceries were being delivered by the pallet from Mike Lovsin at Freson Bros. Valve company Prism Flow Products had crates that could be filled with wheelchairs and walkers. It just kept coming.

Between the business contributions and the public delivering to the Polish Hall, they filled the plane and ran out of space on it. They collected close to $20 million worth of goods in short order and have 10 loaded sea-cans to ship to Poland to follow the plane.

The plane arrived into Edmonton on a Monday loaded with Ukrainian evacuees coming to safety. It left Edmonton on a Tuesday full of supplies, and on Friday we saw pictures of the truckloads of supplies arriving in Lviv. It was extraordinary to see what Thomas Lukaszuk and Ed Stelmach created with their leadership, some phone calls and a defined need.

Who you gonna call? What Ed and Thomas now know is that their business community will be there. They always are!

Alberta Enterprise Group (AEG) puts Alberta businesses first by sharing information, advocacy and building bridges to new markets. AEG members are business owners, senior executives, investors and entrepreneurs representing firms in every major Alberta Industry. AEG members employ over 100,000 Albertans and generate billions in economic activity each year.