A Closer Look at the 2015 Municipal Agriculture Economic Development Forum

Topics presented were:

Building a Bio-Industrial Cluster in Southwestern Ontario
One Detroit: Building an Inclusive and Diverse Entrepreneurial Community
Performance Measurement guide for Agriculture & Agri-food Organizations
Golden Horseshoe Food & Farming Alliance Asset Mapping Project
The Closure of the Heinz Plant in Leamington
Getting Results from Social Media
Agriculture as a Local Economic Development Opportunity

The seventh annual Municipal Agriculture Economic Development Forum was recently held in Chatham-Kent. The two-day event provided an opportunity for those involved in agriculture and food-related areas of economic development to network, share successes, and learn more about programs targeted to the sector. More than 70 people from across the province took part in tours that featured agri-tourism destinations, producers, manufacturers, and food processors. They were able to connect with those who have first-hand experience in the industry.

Building a Bio-Industrial Cluster in Southwestern Ontario
Most popular saying
A quote frequently referenced by Murray McLaughlin

Murray McLaughlin from Bioindustrial Innovation Canada talked about the opportunities presented by integrating bio-based chemicals and bio-materials with traditional sources in a hybrid approach. In particular, he focused on the use of cellulose from agricultural waste materials. This eliminates the food vs fuel debate and provides new opportunities for producers.Dramatic increases in corn yield, for example, provide an opportunity for cellulosic sugar production. In 1960 the average yield was 40 bushels per acre. In 2010, 50 years later, it was 165 bushels. This year some fields were pushing 300 bushels. As yields rise, the organic matter left in the fields rises proportionally so there is now an opportunity for farmers to remove a significant part of the leftover biomass and sell it to create new revenue streams, while still retaining enough to promote healthy soil structure.

His talk centred around 4 opportunities:

  1. Demonstrate global leadership in bio-based and sustainable industry with Sarnia as model to build from;
  2. Integrate the fossil based, non-fossil and biogenetic industries by encouraging hybrid development;
  3. Create a national sustainability strategy to add value to our natural resources; and
  4. Create more value to agriculture through cluster development.

While he used Sarnia as an example, he emphasized that there are currently opportunities throughout Southern Ontario based on Agriculture and in Northern Ontario, from forestry.

One Detroit: Building an Inclusive and Diverse Entrepreneurial Community

The City of Detroit has been facing a situation familiar to many small communities in rural Ontario: shrinking population.  However, for Detroit the numbers are much more dramatic. From a high of almost 2 million in the 1950’s they now have just over 700,000 residents. They lost 25% of their population between 2000 and 2010. There were a number of community driven responses to try to improve the situation, and one of those was the Build Institute which was launched in 2012. Build is an incubator program which, unlike many accelerator type programs, focuses on the small and micro enterprises and lifestyle businesses that are also common in rural Ontario.
They have over 600 alumni in just over three years. Their business model is fee for service but rates are set on a sliding scale that is determined by several social factors. They train, develop and coach business skills and life skills and provide networking and business forums similar to other incubators. However they also use empty storefronts to provide pop-up retail experiences for their students to help them test their ideas, build skills and create initial cash flow.  Executive Director April Boyle shared many examples of unique partnerships and collaborations that they have developed and many of those can be transferred directly to communities in rural Ontario.

Performance Measurement guide for Agriculture & Agri-food Organizations

111Magdy ElDakiky from OMAFRA discussed how performance measures support strategic planning and introduced a new performance measures guide for Agriculture and Agri-food Organizations.  The guide is based on a four step approach that has been tailored to the needs of organizations.

The four steps are:

  • prepare for measuring performance;
  • identify clear outcomes using a logic model;
  • create performance measures;
  • collect, analyze and communicate results.

He also gave an overview of the training and support that is available from OMAFRA Advisors on this topic.

Golden Horseshoe Food & Farming Alliance Asset Mapping Project

Janet Horner, Janice Janiec and Marilyn Bidgood gave an overview of a tool the Golden Horseshoe Food and Farming Alliance has built to map the full agri-food value chain, from production to consumption, in seven regional municipalities.  Over 15,000 agri-food asset records were collected, geocoded and loaded into the database in Phase I. The second phase of the project, which includes another 7 counties or regions in the Greater Golden Horseshoe, will be completed by March 2016, and they have the rest of the province in their sites!

The Closure of the Heinz Plant in Leamington: A Case Study

Jeanine Lassaline-Berglund, Economic Development Officer for the Town of Leamington, gave some insight into the effects to the Town as a result of the closure of the Heinz plant which was announced approximately two years ago. The town has long been known as The Tomato Capital of Canada and the closure affected not only the economy of the town but also its sense of identity. Highlighted were a number of new programs and initiatives that have come about as a result of the closure.
The plant closed in June of 2014, resulting in a loss of almost 750 jobs and was reopened soon after by Highbury Canco, which provided 250 jobs. A recently announced expansion is projected to return employment to pre-announcement levels, but the community has also learned to diversify and has developed some innovative ways to support new and existing businesses. While it was cautioned that for some who received a severance package because of the closure the effects are just now being truly felt, the community as a whole has come through a long and difficult time and is beginning to rebound by working more closely together.

Getting Results from Social Media

A panel discussion on social media featuring Clark Hoskin, Manager of Tourism and Economic Development for Norfolk County, Paul Spence, Agripreneur and Gregg McLachlan, a partner in Tweetfolks explored practical ways to separate your social media communications from the background noise of others and achieve more impact for your efforts. They talked about the power of content, the need for discipline and stamina (setting targets and working to a schedule) and the importance of thinking like a blogger. They also gave examples of activities they have undertaken that achieved measureable results.

Agriculture as a Local Economic Development Opportunity: Training Discussion

Nick Kinkel from OMAFRA led a discussion on the importance of agriculture in rural economies and gave an overview of new training that is being developed to help increase the awareness of other rural stakeholders and improve engagement in local economic development.  A questionnaire will be sent to economic development practitioners in the near future to provide respondents with a chance to give input on shaping this new tool. If you receive it, please take the time to respond!

For more information on the Agriculture Economic Development Forum and copies of the presentations visit: www.chatham-kent.ca/EconomicDevelopment/Pages/default.aspx or wegrowfortheworld.com/

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