It Wasn’t So Much What Was Talked About As What Was Said
The 2017 International Economic Development Council Annual Conference in Toronto marks the first time the event has been held outside the United States. The topics on the agenda weren’t all that different from what was discussed at the Economic Developers Association of Canada conference held in Niagara Falls a week or two earlier. However, for those of us from Ontario, the perspectives and discussions were quite different from what we usually hear. I suspect that for our American colleagues the large number of Canadian, European and Indigenous speakers and attendees gave this event a perspective that was different from their past events as well.
For me, the reason to go to a conference like this is to hear a familiar problem outlined from a point of view I never considered, or to look at a case study that started out using a standard approach to a project but ended up doing something totally innovative when
they rolled it out. Having said that, there were a few topics of conversation that seemed to resonate throughout the conference.
Toronto is Very Diverse
Quite a few of the Toronto-based speakers talked about how more than half the population is foreign-born. That wasn’t a surprise, I heard it even before the opening plenary session. People were blown away by the diversity that they saw on the streets and in the shops. It probably helped that the conference was located on Queen St. West, but one common topic of conversation for the first two days was how many of the restaurants offered food that some of the visitors had never heard of before. While the rest of Ontario is not as diverse as Toronto, I didn’t see much that I haven’t already seen somewhere in my part of rural Ontario, so we seem to be following quite well.
Economic Development has Changed, But…
Workforce attraction & retention and talent development & management were strong themes throughout the conference. Even in sessions on other topics, workforce availability came out as the key driver for relocation and expansion decisions. It was clear that this is a significant focus for most of the people in attendance. However, many people also told me that while the companies they work with are focused on finding people for all the unfilled jobs, the people the economic developers report to are still focused on attracting more businesses and creating more jobs. The next few years are going to be interesting on the workforce front.
Overall, there were lots of excellent panels and Ignite-style presentations that highlighted how creative successful economic developers need to be. In the face of a similar situation, every community has a slightly different response and needs a uniquely tailored solution to truly meet its needs. That’s what makes economic development so frustrating, but it is also what makes it such a great career!
Written by: Jeff Kinsella, Agriculture and Rural Economic Development Advisor