OBIAA 2019- Community Builders: Beyond Banners and Benches

The Ontario Business Improvement Area Association (OBIAA) recently held their annual conference in Ottawa, Ontario. Themed “Community Builders: Beyond Banners and Benches”, the conference focused on highlighting the ways Business Improvement Areas have changed in their 49 years of existence. From their initial roots in taking on small-scale beautification projects, many have become the lead economic development organization for their downtown area. The conference included a diverse range of sessions that reflect on the new roles of a BIA, and more specifically its role in community economic development.

Here are some highlights:


Master the basics: Peter Kenyon, founder and director of western Australia-based Bank of I.D.E.A.S kicked off the conference with a simple message: business and economic development is fundamentally about relationship building. Peter used the story of Tom O’Toole, who built one of the highest earning single bakery retailers in Australia by mastering the fundamentals relationship building with his staff and his customers, to illustrate his point. Peter reminded us that success in economic development relies less on money or professionalized activities than it does on building strong relationships with the volunteers, staff members, and “customers” (e.g. visitors, potential investors, local businesses) that can help carry out coordinated community revitalization strategies.


With little funding, you can still have dancing in the streets: Andrew Sercombe from Downtown London offered insights into successful strategies used to activate public spaces using limited budgets, building partnerships with their business community, or existing and emerging communities, events, and trends (e.g. Pokemon GO). Downtown London has created activation’s ranging from pop-up seating and dance lessons, to large-scale street festivals and Instagram-worthy alleyways. For each of these activation’s, Andrew shared a range of tips based on their successes and failures, which can guide BIAs of all sizes.

Social Media

Forget about Twitter: Avery Swartz, founder of Camp Tech, delivered an engaging overview of social media for BIAs. Starting with a framework for digital marketing, Avery offered tips and resources on identifying and reaching your audience, creating content (including ten ideas), and measuring impacts. For those struggling to split resources to manage multiple social media channels, Avery suggested that the best return on investment will come from a focus on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram, based on work required and average monthly users.


Creating retail microclimates: New York-based consultant Larisa Ortiz introduced the concept of retail microclimates, where the visibility, mobility, and accessibility of an area paired with the anchors and tenant mix create a unique “retail microclimate” of businesses that support one another. Using a “Do this, not that” approach, Larisa offered tips on making sure visibility, mobility, and accessibility are appropriate for allowing complementary retail microclimates to develop.


Digital Main Street continues its expansion: Since its launch in August 2018, Digital Main Street has been rapidly expanding across Ontario. In a presentation outlining the program, there was an overview of the impacts the program has generated so far: over 1,100 businesses participating in the online digital transformation training program, $602,500 in grants that have been distributed to small businesses, and a total of 105 jobs will be created through the program.

The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs’ Downtown Revitalization program advocates for the improvement of rural downtown’s through engagement of organizations that contribute to economic development. BIAs remain an important partner in that work, and annual conferences like this represent a key professional development opportunity for both BIAs and non-BIAs to strengthen our understanding of strategies and actions that are producing impacts.  If you missed the conference this year, you can access the presentations here.

Tips for Encouraging Volunteer Success- Happy National Volunteer Week!

This week is National Volunteer Week! National Volunteer Week is a time to celebrate and thank Canada’s 12.7 million volunteers. Without volunteers’ dedicating their time and talent, many organizations simply would not exist.

Volunteers can be extremely helpful to any organization. They can help manage the workloads of other employees to make the work easier and less stressful for everyone involved. Volunteers can provide objective feedback and they can engage with locals to attract more attention to the organization or the community initiative.

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A Popular First Impressions Community Exchange is Now Available for Local Food

OMAFRA’s Local Food First Impressions Community Exchange (FICE) program, allows communities to gain a fresh perspective on how their local food assets are seen through the eyes of first-time visitors. A FICE program means that:

  • Two communities are matched based on similarities (e.g., major sectors or population)
  • Each community recruits a group of volunteers to act as visitors
  • Those volunteers are trained by OMAFRA staff to conduct the visit
  • The visitors record their findings about the partner community
  • Observations are presented to each community
  • Action plans are created based on the feedback gathered

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Job Posting Analytics Have Been Added to Analyst

Analyst is an online tool that pools data from a range of sources to provide information on regional economies and workforces. It helps you better understand your region so you can make informed decisions.

A new module: Job Postings Analytics (JPA), has been added. Previously available in the US version of Analyst, this new addition to the Canadian version allows users to better understand the positions businesses are trying to fill, as well as the specific skills and qualifications they are looking for. Aggregated from millions of active postings on the open web, the data is de-duplicated, organized, and available now for all users with a subscription to Canadian labour market data.

This update provides five user-friendly reports, including the popular Job Posting Analytics (JPA) report. Packed with the same powerful filtering and search capabilities as the U.S. version, Canadian JPA has been fully regionalized to capture the unique job titles and occupations that make up the Canadian labour market.

Emsi job posting data provides real-time answers to pressing questions, including:

  • What are the top businesses posting jobs in your province?
  • What jobs are they posting?
  • What are the most in-demand skills for those jobs?

Curious about what Analyst can do for you? Visit our website to learn more.

Community Economic Development Learning Opportunities

Since February 2019, OMAFRA has delivered 12 Community Economic Development Sessions across Ontario.

Further sessions will run from March 21, 2019 to May 22, 2019. Don’t miss this great opportunity to learn the benefits of planning for economic development.

Community Economic Development (CED 101) is the process of fostering an environment that results in the creation of wealth and well-being for the benefit of the community. CED 101 training sessions are aimed at teaching participants the basics of community economic development and how to tailor these strategies to your community. These sessions will also demonstrate the value of planning in your community, the importance of collaborative roles of individuals and organizations and the tools and resources available to you to support region-specific efforts.

See below for training sessions to be held in your region:

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Choosing the Right Business Sampling Method for your BR+E Project

Selecting a suitable sampling method for your Business Retention and Expansion (BR+E) is a key step towards ensuring the overall success of your project. BR+E is a structured, action-oriented, community-based approach to business and economic development. It promotes job growth by helping communities learn about local business conditions in order to set priorities for initiatives that address needs and capitalize on opportunities.

Since 2008, over 7,000 businesses have been engaged as part of 172 projects that have been completed or are underway across the province. A good sample will allow for the effective implementation of effective actions, whereas a poorly selected sample may make it difficult to develop solid goals.

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Teeny Tiny Summits to be Held Across Ontario

This year, OMAFRA will be partnering with communities across Ontario to host five Teeny Tiny Summits. The summits are dedicated to fostering community economic development in Ontario’s smallest places. These opportunities will provide rural communities with access to a world-class community development expert, Peter Kenyon, who will discuss how communities can apply strategies.

Each summit will begin with a keynote address from Peter Kenyon, who will be giving his “Big Ideas for Small Places” talk. Next, there will be various panels focusing on how small communities have an impact in Ontario, followed by mentorship tables, Teeny Tiny Success stories and closing remarks.

The “Teeny Tiny Places” initiative began in 2015 in response to an observed lack of participation among very small communities in economic development programs. The summits provide participants with examples and relevant tools that will help while inspire and motive the work they do in their own community.

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NEW Agriculture Economic Development Training

If your community is looking for ways to support your local agriculture sector; plan on attending the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) online Agriculture Economic Development Training.

The course is split into two sessions (March 26, 10am- 12pm and April 16, 10am-12pm). Click here to register. COURSE NOW FULL – WAIT LIST AVAILABLE 

This interactive training will: Continue reading NEW Agriculture Economic Development Training

Performance Measurement for Agricultural Societies

OMAFRA is offering a workshop on Friday, February 15 from 1:30-2:30 p.m. at the 2019 Ontario Association of Agricultural Societies Convention for the Measuring Your Societies Performance to Tell Your Story Workshop. The conference is taking place at the Sheraton Parkway Toronto North Hotel & Suites, in Richmond Hill, Ontario from Thursday February 14th to Friday February 15th.

Helen Scutt, Agriculture Organization Specialist for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, will be presenting on how to use performance measures to increase accountability, support evidence-based decision-making, and keep your society focused on continuous improvement.

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OMAFRA Advisor Catherine Oosterbaan takes home 2018 EDCO Award

Agriculture and Rural Economic Development Advisor with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Catherine Oosterbaan, was named the 2018 EDCO Young Influencer of the Year Award winner at the 2019 EDCO Conference in Toronto last month.

This award recognizes the next thought leader or community organizer who is committed to facilitating change and fostering economic development in their community. EDCO’s Awards of Excellence program aims to recognize and celebrate the outstanding work in economic development happening around the province of Ontario.

Continue reading OMAFRA Advisor Catherine Oosterbaan takes home 2018 EDCO Award

Regional Economic Development Branch blog focusing on agriculture and rural economic development for Ontario