Economic developers are faced with a constantly changing environment as industry changes before our very eyes; the needs of yesterday are not and will not be the needs of tomorrow. The EDAC 2017 Conference highlighted three themes that can help economic developers stay relevant. If understood and utilized, these themes can help economic developers capitalize on the opportunities they present when planning for future community and economic needs.
Many conversations around the conference focused on the need to nurture talent in order to retain and/or attract business. As noted in the Mississauga Life Sciences Sector Strategy presentation, talent is a key linkage that is critical to success across all sectors, whether that sector is industry, academia, or government. Positioning Mississauga as a desirable place to live and work was essential component to grow the life science sector to be the second largest in Canada. Attracting labour is not enough. How talent and careers are developed in our communities also plays a role. This point was highlighted by Jeremy Bout of Edge Factor who has created a suite of educational tools for youth, educators and industry who stated that we must “Be relevant, have a palpable story to relate to” when it comes to informing youth about the opportunities of tomorrow. Put simply we must “Promote careers, not jobs.” Ultimately, talent will be critical to meet the business realities of the future.
Former Ontario Premier and Federal Liberal Party leader Bob Rae, as key note speaker stated that “Leadership is not about following the crowd but leading it.” So what do we need to do as economic developers to cultivate the leaders of tomorrow? Municipalities and their economic developers are the convener, and curator of the sandbox for the innovation ecosystem. This ecosystem should create ownership opportunities, in the context of the workplace and entrepreneurship for youth, and empower them by developing their problem solving, collaboration, and co-creation skills. These skills are critical for success. “Kids think outside the box because they’ve never been in the box” as noted by Karen Dubeau on the Empowering Youth panel and we must allow the environment to cultivate the creative skills of tomorrow. Economic developers have a leadership role to play in driving the success of developing future entrepreneurs and workforce leaders by mobilizing the right networks and resources.
3: Shifting Perceptions
Building on talent attraction and youth themes, we have learned about the critical need to embody community branding to ensure your residents and business community feel engaged within regional economic development. As learned in the “Mobilizing Economic Recruitment in Rural Ontario” presentation, marketing is about “who” and not “what.” Kara Van Myall identified that personalizing the story of business growth in the community is key; having the personal story behind the business champions has helped drive growth in the community. It has helped Bruce County to support the success of business owners who share the same enthusiasm in the community.
Eleanor Miclette echoed a similar theme in her presentation, “Think Local, Act Global: Creative Partnerships to Boost Community Economic Development.” Her presentation focused on the success the County of Northern Lights had in shifting the perceptions residents and businesses had of their community. A unique example she provided was that the County used a magazine partnership to profile “new and different” things in the community to break the stereotypes of what her community thought they were.
It is always great to connect with colleagues and learn about best practices on a national and international scale. As we go forward to drive economic development of the future, we must keep in mind the importance of collaboration with our economic development counterparts not just in Ontario, but around the world. This was highlighted in the “Managing the Relationship: the Historic Canada/US/Australia” panel in which Dr. Ian Martinus of Australia Economic Development profiled the need to share best practices on an international scale because we all bring unique ideas from different geographies that may not have been considered in your community.
Written by: Catherine Oosterbaan & Myles Buck