All posts by Darren Shock

Budgeting for Downtown Revitalization?

Continuing with our series of blogs on the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs’ (OMAFRA) Downtown Revitalization Program (DR), this entry will take a look at the estimated costs a community could expect to incur, and strategies to manage the cost of the initiative.

Like all economic development activities, downtown revitalization is a long-term and ongoing process. OMAFRA’s DR program is a comprehensive four-stage process aimed at moving from foundational strategic directions and actions to tangible results in a two to three year timeframe. The first year is largely focused on the development of a strategic plan and actions for downtown revitalization. An additional one to two years is a realistic expectation for the community to see initial outcomes, monitor progress, and start making strategic adjustments as needed. This process is expected to generate two types of costs: Continue reading Budgeting for Downtown Revitalization?

Refresher for Downtown Revitalization

The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) Downtown Revitalization Program takes a comprehensive four-stage approach to support the efforts of rural communities who want to revitalize their historic downtowns. As part of the program, OMAFRA provides the Downtown Revitalization Coordinator’s Manual, which is designed to support communities that have identified downtown revitalization as an economic development priority. As with many of OMAFRA’s other program resources, the Downtown Revitalization Coordinator’s Manual is now available online, at no cost,  just fill out the form on the OMAFRA website. Continue reading Refresher for Downtown Revitalization

Thoughts from the Main Street Now Conference

Place seems to matter more than ever, and Main Street areas across the United States are finding ways to re-assert their economic importance despite emerging ‘disruptive’ advancements in retail (e.g. e-commerce). That was the underlying theme in many of the sessions I attended at the recent 2017 Main Street Now conference in Pittsburgh, pit 22Pennsylvania. Attended by more than 1,600 people, the annual conference brings together key private and public sector decision makers to share successes and challenges in preservation-based downtown revitalization.

After a few weeks to collect my thoughts, here are the ideas that continue to resonate with me on ways to improve downtown districts: Continue reading Thoughts from the Main Street Now Conference

The Community-Focused Rural Economic Development Program is Open for Applications

The Rural Economic Development (RED) program helps rural communities remove barriers to community economic development, through support for planning and implementation projects that benefit rural Ontario.

The program is now open and will accept applications until March 31, 2017. A second intake is scheduled for July 31, 2017 to September 29, 2017.

The RED program supports the government’s plan to create jobs, grow the economy, and help people in their everyday lives by:

  • Helping remove barriers to economic development for rural communities, Indigenous communities and organizations, and not-for-profit organizations.
  • Helping rural communities identify their economic strengths and develop strategies to attract business and investment which will help to retain and create jobs.
  • Helping rural communities and partners to be in a more competitive economic position so that they can diversify and grow their local economies – making economic growth more inclusive so that Ontario’s growing economy delivers real benefits to rural Ontario.

Applicants are required to read the program guidelines before completing the application.

For more information on the program, including guidelines, applications, and approved projects, please visit

Downtown Revitalization Community of Practice Sessions

For the second year in a row, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) has partnered with the Ontario Business Improvement Area Association (OBIAA) to organize and deliver three Downtown Revitalization Community of Practice sessions. These sessions are being hosted in communities that are at various stages in their downtown revitalization program. The sessions are designed to provide a balance of perspectives about the challenges and opportunities associated with launching a Downtown Revitalization initiative, developing strategies to respond to changing markets, and maintaining support over the longer term.

These one-day sessions showcase the community, and the individuals or organizations involved in the revitalization of the downtown. This includes presentations by the host community and partner organizations, facilitated discussions on downtown revitalization best practices, and networking opportunities. Community of Practice sessions are scheduled for the following dates and locations:

More information and registration details can be found on the OBIAA website. OMAFRA facilitates and coordinates resources and tools to build the capacity of rural Ontario communities for economic development. For more information on OMAFRA’s Downtown Revitalization program, visit our website or contact the Agriculture and Rural Economic Development Advisor in your area.

Lasting Impressions from the Main Street Now Conference

Downtowns are back. In fact, many all over North America are thriving under the guidance of people and organizations passionate about their Main Street areas. That was the key message shared through the 2016 Main Street Now conference in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The annual conference brings together key private and public sector decision makers to share successes and challenges, as well as foster new ideas and solutions for preservation-based downtown revitalization.

Here are five key takeaways from the conference to consider when thinking about revitalizing your own community:

Continue reading Lasting Impressions from the Main Street Now Conference

Downtown Revitalization Ticking Along in Gravenhurst

Downtowns are often the historical heart of communities across rural Ontario. The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs’ (OMAFRA) Downtown Revitalization program offers a framework for improving the physical, economic, and social well-being of those traditional town centres and their historic places and spaces.

The Town of Gravenhurst launched their Downtown Revitalization initiative with the support of OMAFRA in 2011. The vision for this initiative was to create a Town that offers economic sustainability, diversity, and cultural or geographic uniqueness. Through investment and support from the Town and OMAFRA, Gravenhurst’s Downtown Revitalization initiative has generated a number of positive impacts for the Town over the last several years of implementing its action plan.

These include: Continue reading Downtown Revitalization Ticking Along in Gravenhurst

Improving the Analyst User Experience

Data plays a number of roles in effective economic development. The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs – in partnership with Economic Modeling Specialists International (EMSI) – has offered Ontario’s economic development community access to a full range of data to support regional analysis, strategic planning, and monitoring in a free, user-friendly tool called ‘Analyst’ since 2013. EMSI has recently developed a new version of that flagship tool to improve the user’s ability to find, assess, and report on regional economic data. Improvements focus on five key areas: Continue reading Improving the Analyst User Experience