Economic Development happens in a complex and highly competitive environment. When you’re competing for investment, labour, and other resources with literally every other municipality across the globe it can be hard to stand out in a crowded marketplace. Especially, if you’re a small rural community.
The 2015 Economic Development Association of Canada (EDAC) annual conference was hosted in Whitehorse, YT. For a change it focused on being different and presenters talked about how small communities can leverage their unique assets and regional partnerships to set themselves apart. Speakers such as former Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Joe Clark, marketing specialist Chris Fields, public engagement expert Stephanie Roy McCallum, slam poet Shane Koyczan, and a host of municipal and First Nations dignitaries and staff walked delegates through how to identify unique assets, opportunities, and partnerships to leverage and set a community apart from the competition.
Below, I present the Top 10 takeaways from EDAC 2015.
- Canada is a country of communities, and respect for, and recognition of political, cultural, and geographic differences is critical for meaningful, context-driven decision making.
- We must accept and celebrate our differences, step away from the comfort conformity brings so we are no longer limited to the perception that if it hasn’t been done before, it cannot be done. Every person and community is different, and it’s what makes us different that makes us incredible…so leverage that!
- Consumers, whether they are potential tourists, residents, or investors, are not looking for bigger, they are looking for better, and as humans, our brains are hardwired to notice differences, not similarities. So avoid clichés and differentiate your community from others through highlighting unique experiences that are rare or only available in your community.
- Identify and utilize community assets for economic development purposes through the use of the Municipal Capacity Development Program’s Guide to Asset Mapping available here: www.municipalcapacity.ca.
- Identify, build and leverage partnerships with regional First Nations communities for economic development purposes through the use of the CEDI ‘Stronger Together’ toolkit available here: http://www.fcm.ca/home/programs/community-economic-development-initiative/toolkit.htm.
- Partnerships between communities can evolve from something as simple as cheering for the same hockey teams (in true Canadian spirit of course) to something more complex such as benefit agreements and shared strategic planning exercises.
- Approach public engagement without a pre-determined decision. Ensure your public engagement process is accessible to all members of the community you are trying to reach. You will hear different stories from community members than community and organizational leaders. Explore online tools to further enhance your public engagement process for those that cannot attend an in-person consultation.
- Explore the potential to create mentorship opportunities. This year’s EDAC featured two great examples of opportunities to learn from mentorship. One, being the expansion and redevelopment of the Takhini Hot Pools through the use of the Yukon Business Development Fund. This is a truly unique program that allows businesses to connect with a Business Advisory Board, consisting of global expertise in any sector (identified by that business) at no cost to the business. Two, being the Yukon Upstarts conference geared to young entrepreneurs, which pairs young entrepreneurs with their peers for hands on business development activities, and also allows them to learn first-hand from other young entrepreneur speakers who have faced similar experiences.
- Considerations for sustainability are key as with our current rate of economic growth we would require three planet’s worth of resources by 2050. With this in mind, speaker Dr. Mike Lewis challenged the attendees to re-evaluate the concept of and need for economic growth, which is driven by ever increasing development, versus simply meeting the basic needs of a community to maintain the quality of life.
- Change and innovation is never easy as most people prefer the status quo. This means change will create critics, and the more imaginative the change, the more critics there will be. BUT don’t let them stand in your way, as history’s most notable influencers have fought against critics to bring meaningful and influential change such as Albert Einstein and Nelson Mandela.
I hope these learnings help you formulate new solutions to old challenges your communities are facing. I encourage you to get out of your office and get a better understanding of your own community’s unique needs to start developing some innovative solutions to address them, and make sure you are leveraging partnerships and peer connections to help them be successful. Don’t be afraid to BE DIFFERENT!
by: Catherine Oosterbaan, Ec.D. Agriculture and Rural Economic Development Advisor