When Greg Christenson was deciding what to do with his life, he had an important decision to make: did he want to follow in the footsteps of his father and join the family business, or did he want to set off on his own?
At first, he thought the latter, and admits he was hoping to “work for the PCLs of the world.” But when that didn’t work out, he decided to give the family business a try. So in 1979, with a degree in civil engineering from the University of Alberta in hand, he came to work at his father’s construction business, and together they designed and built over 1,000 rental apartment units as Chris-Con Builders.
Unfortunately, the nature of their business meant they were at the mercy of the market, and in 1983, Alberta’s real estate market crashed—the result being that no more apartments were built in Edmonton for the next seven years. Unwilling to give up self-employment now that he’d tasted the freedom that came with it, Christenson went on to work in property management of foreclosed real estate. When the market eventually began to make a comeback, he was able to start Christenson Developments with his partner Peter Dirksen in 1989, concentrating on apartment and bungalows once again.
While he certainly could have left for greener pastures during the province’s real estate slump, Christenson realized the value in staying and building business relationships in Edmonton. With so many local businesses affected by the crash, he got to witness first-hand the sharing of ideas, cooperation and generosity of the business community as they worked to build themselves up again—something he realized would be hard to come by in other cities.
“The beauty of it is it’s not just financially worthwhile, it’s rewarding because the characteristic of the community is not stab each other in the back, it’s [to] create value,” Christenson explains. “We’re not coming from a third world country where there’s not enough water, grain, food, clothes, housing. We’ve already won the lottery, we’re already sitting in a pretty stable situation so you can aspire to do some bigger picture things whether it’s through industry, or politics or charities or things of that nature.”
Christenson has certainly made progress on his own bigger picture over the years, as Christenson Developments is now a prominent player in Edmonton’s real estate scene. He and his business partner have also managed to add new components to the company, including Christenson Equities and Christenson Communities—the latter of which owns and manages hundreds of aging-in-place retirement communities. They’re now known for their seniors housing as much as their adult urban villages, and they continue to grow outside of the local market more with each year. Years after their initial real estate troubles, it’s safe to say Christenson’s decision to stay in Edmonton has paid off.
“I think Edmonton’s always had huge potential. It’s a working place, it’s an educational place, it’s a resource-based place and I think sometimes Edmontonians don’t always recognize that,” Christenson says.
“It’s not the place to lie on a beach or hang out for eight months of the year and do nothing, it’s a place where you come because there’s a lot of opportunity, and it’s a great place for families [and] advancement.”