The Lost Craft: Municipal Industrial Land Development - Part 2

In this blog, I will address a few fundamental questions you may be asking yourself.
Where do I start?
Begin by understanding the simple truth that under every business is land, and typically a building. This means: No land and/or buildings available = no business start-up, expansion and/or relocation.
Why do I, as an economic developer have to engage in land development?
As an economic developer, you (and only you – not the planner, or anyone else) are responsible for ensuring a business environment exists to accommodate the growth of business. Remember, planners are concerned with land use designations, not how much actual industrial land is immediately available to businesses. Your responsibility includes, but is not limited to, a sufficient supply of shovel-ready land, serviced with all utilities and infrastructure to meet today’s business needs of your community. You may be lucky enough to live in a community with a number of competing quality industrial developers that do this for you. If you are, count yourself among the very few across the country. 
Why can’t I rely on the private sector doing it?
The private sector naturally seeks to maximize profitability – and this is often at odds with the economic development objective of having a sufficient supply of reasonably priced industrial land for sale. Here are a few issues to consider:
  • Private owners may effectively hold land off the market by over-pricing it (for various reasons);
  • Many private owners do not wish to sell the land at all (again for a variety of reasons);
  • Some private owners will only do “build to suit or lease”, profiting on both land and building development. This eliminates businesses requiring ownership of their real property; 
  • Private owners often acquire industrial land with the intent or hope to re-designate to higher value uses such as commercial or residential; 
  • Sales of privately-held lands are less discriminate and/or counter to municipal objectives, such as selling to land extensive – low employment uses (think auto wrecker), or retail uses.
Next in this blog series:
Do I have the skills? Can I do this? And trepidations of an economic developer getting engaged in land development.

In addition to his international and Canadian economic development certifications, Eric McSweeney is an Accredited Land Consultant (ALC) and a Commercial Investment Member (CCIM). He has completed land development related projects for more than two dozen communities, and has developed and sold more than $20M of business park lands. One of his innovative public-private land development projects has been published in the International Economic Development Council Journal.   

"McSweeney & Associates developed our land sales policy and procedures for us and we are very excited that it has helped facilitate a land sale for a potential new industrial development, a first in years for Elliot Lake”  
Ashten Vlahovich, Economic Development Coordinator, City of Elliot Lake
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Does Your Community have its Act Together?

I’m going to try to dispel the mystery of success to support economic diversification, economic development or whatever else you want to call what it is you do. If you are currently functioning as an economic developer, your role is essentially about first ensuring your community’s act is together – seriously, it’s as simple as that.

No magic, no special hidden secret - just getting back to the basics – and being good at it. Regardless of your program or focus, in this day and age, it’s all about ensuring the economic development fundamentals are met. Unfortunately, a large number of communities (big/small, urban/rural) across Canada have either forgotten, or have never been enlightened on this point. 

It’s definitely not sexy, and doesn’t win any economic development awards, but the fundamentals of economic development are sadly being overlooked in favour of a focus on the sizzle – I’m being completely honest when I say this.  Ironically, award-winning glossy/flashy marketing pieces are effectively useless if you don’t have the basics, right (no awards for that, only rewards…).

So, the two fundamentals that make all communities unique and special are also what most often holds them back – people and place. That’s pretty obvious you would say, yet surprisingly, very difficult for communities to get right. If a community has no people (or not the right kind of people in its labour force) and nowhere for a business to locate (or not the right places), your diversification efforts, business development efforts, and/or investment attraction efforts are all a waste.

No matter what your community chooses to focus its efforts on, as an economic development professional – take a realistic look in the mirror and see if your community has the people and places to support economic development. If your community does not have these two basic essentials right, you may want to refocus efforts to correct this, otherwise you are wasting both your time and your community’s money.

In my next blog (rant), I will pose some questions to help you self-assess whether or not your community has its act together.

Ian Duff, Vice-President, Economic Development Consulting
Twitter: @IanDuff583
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Diversification - A Journey, not a Destination

Low oil and gas prices have many communities focusing on diversification as a way of stabilizing their local economy. Some Economic Development Officers see diversification as a radical change, maybe a complete retooling or re-build of what they have.

I recently stumbled across a document outlining the progress of agriculture and food production in the High River – Okotoks area, where I now live. It is evident our forefathers looked for diversification opportunities much like us, as illustrated by the following:

Before 1879 families depended upon grazing animals but that year John Glenn broke about 4 acres to grow oats and barley that he harvested by hand. By 1882 Mr. Glenn moved to Fish Creek and used irrigation to grow cabbage and other vegetables (new products to the area); he sold over $2000 worth of cabbage alone – a small fortune when land price was $2 per acre.
By 1885, land was fenced and livestock was raised differently - their diets supplemented with grain and produce. Farm products were sold in Calgary (a new market) and businesses expanded with the introduction of equipment and more sophisticated irrigation.
Neighbours expanded their holdings - added more livestock – pigs, sheep and improved breeds of cattle. Risky growing conditions convinced some farmers to process raw products, turning milk into butter and cheese to be sold both locally and outside the region (increasing the production sectors and adding more customers). 
By 1900, a number of farmers had facilities in more than one location (spreading the risk of flood or frost) and crops were being shipped by rail to eastern Canada and Europe (marketing in more markets and jurisdictions).
The experiences of the early settlers demonstrate what the Business Development Bank of Canada has been saying. BDC documented 5 types of business diversification in their study of Alberta SME success: 
  1. more than one product/service line
  2. clients in more than one city/town
  3. not reliant significantly on a single major client 
  4. operate in more than one sector (oil & gas, construction, manufacturing) more markets served (reduces dependence on a single market)
  5. more than one production location (not in the same city/town)
It may mean adding new sectors to your business community, but it doesn’t mean abandoning what you have. As an Economic Developer, you can facilitate growth through diversification by enabling innovation, supporting new market development, recruiting or developing new skilled workers, having land available to support expansion into new products or processes, and having infrastructure – including broadband to serve new markets.
Just like our forefathers, we want a stable, prosperous economy and like them we’ll find it’s not a new destination; it’s a journey with businesses in your community that can diversify and prosper. 

Art Lawson B.Sc, M.Sc, Ec.D is a McSweeney Economic Development Associate Consultant. Based in Alberta, Art began his career in business management and applied those foundational skills in community economic development – initially in business diversification.  Art moved from diversification to pioneering the development and implementation of a number of economic development tools for communities, including BR+E, Downtown Revitalization and Economic Analysis & Planning.  Art has also served as the General Manager of the South Central Ontario Economic Development (SCOR) Corporation (former tobacco region) focused on economic recovery and business diversification.  Communities and sectors were assisted with capacity building, foreign investment attraction and the process of establishing the Region as a Foreign Trade Zone.

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Planning for Resiliency

An effective strategic plan is one of the most important tools that a municipality can use to bring together the public, municipal staff and members of Council in the development of a common vision, direction and goals for a community.  
The plan should also function as an evaluation framework against which decisions by Council and staff can be measured. It also enables management and the public to evaluate municipal progress towards the right objective – and that objective should be resiliency and sustainability.   
Resiliency looks different in every community as each municipality has its own economic base and locational risks.  There are internal risks like inadequate business succession planning and external risks like changes in commodity prices or Canadian currency, or emerging disruptive technologies.  More catastrophic risks can include flooding, fire, earthquakes, and terrorism threats.  All these risks and more need to be factored into your strategic planning.  
There is no silver bullet to creating resilience – it is different in every community, and it must be planned for in every case.  Resiliency, economic vibrancy and sustainability don’t just happen without leadership and a plan.  But the plan in itself is not enough.  Staff, local business leaders and provincial staff should have input and be trained on implementation (with regular refreshing).  As they say, the proof is in the pudding – and while one can never predict the future, planning will at least allow you to know which ingredients you need to have on hand!  
Next we look at a Community Case Study in Resiliency
Shawna Lawson (Stonehouse) BComm (UofA), MSc (Planning), EcD is a McSweeney Economic Development Associate Consultant. Shawna began her career in Red Deer and brings over 25 years of economic and business development experience in Alberta, Ontario and overseas (UK and Southeast Asia). She has a proven track record of bringing public and private sector interests together for successful results and project management of complex projects involving several, often conflicting, stakeholders. Over the past few years, Shawna has worked with several struggling communities to diversify their economy and develop their downtowns and image, all while building their internal capacity to carry on development on their own – using tools such as BR+E, Downtown Revitalization, Investment Attraction and data-based strategic planning.  
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Observations from a First Year Economic Developer

As an Economic Development practitioner in the private sector, I have been privileged to see economic development in its many forms at the local municipal level. From big oil, to agricultural, or small-tourism based economies, the art of economic development differs immensely depending on your starting point. Identifying the ideal future community should be a precursor to setting economic development goals.

One clear cut lesson from my time spent analysing economic trends is that the current economies have resulted at least partially from past economic development efforts.  Planning economic growth requires that a community recognize what its current competitive position is, and takes the opportunity to collectively envision its medium to long term desired future. The strategies should aim to leverage current assets and expertise in the communities to create a diversified and sustainable economy.

So, in brief, my three observations from my first year in economic development are:

1) There is no one best practice economic development strategy (or strategies) - the nature of actions required depends upon where a community stands in its course of development, amongst other things.

2) Because economic development is an integral component of community development, it is crucial for a community to map out its ideal future, and then use economic development to support the achievement of that vision.

3) As every community has many assets and opportunities, there is no reason to tie its future to a single employer or industry: Diversification is the key to sustainability.

Juliana Serje, MSc Econ has completed her first year as McSweeney & Associates’ Data, Information and Communications Specialist.  Juliana’s work for the firm includes the analysis and presentation of data, trends, industry sector information, economic programs and socio-economic material. Juliana holds a Baccalaureate of Arts in Economics and a MSc. in Economics.

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Economic Development is a Contact Sport!

You’re not likely to break a leg or wind up on the disabled list but high numbers of high quality contacts are critical to your success. I have a great memory, but it’s short so I’ve learned a few tricks. 

I was told that economic developers tend to know two or three times as many people as the average person. By itself that’s not a big advantage – just more names and faces to remember. The key thing is to associate a person with the right assets and attributes. 

As an economic developer, your success and reputation are dependent on your ability to connect people with others who can solve their need or opportunity. Other than a photographic memory, what can you do to improve your contact game? 

You can start with networking skills to identify leaders in various fields but again, that gets confusing unless you can save and store that information in a contact database until you need it. Although cumbersome, use as many fields as possible so that you can search on more than just a name (for the good but short memory).

Consider a client relationship management system (CRM) for you and your community. My colleagues and I use Executive Pulse for our BR&E projects but it has much more utility than just to support a BR&E project. In addition to surveys, you can save details about issues, needs, products and services that can make you look like a genius when you find and connect local businesses that can help one another. You will also have done your community a service in documenting local knowledge, insights and services provided by local businesses. Your client businesses will be happy because you’ve remembered important things about them.  

Contact sports don’t need to result in injuries if you play the game right and have the right equipment and technology to play like a star.


Art Lawson B.Sc, M.Sc, Ec.D is a McSweeney Economic Development Associate Consultant and pioneer in community economic development, having made Ontario one of the leading jurisdictions in the world for bottom-up economic strategic planning and development.  He established the regional team system for economic development programs and services to small urban and rural communities for the Province of Ontario and led their award-winning BR&E program in over 100 communities, enabling local retention and development of 1000’s of jobs.


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How Resilient is Your Community?

A lot of municipalities are talking about resiliency and diversification right now, but what defines resilience and how does a community achieve it? 

Essentially, resilience is measured by a community’s ability to recover from a downturn or shock. That shock could be economic such as: a general downturn in the economy; closure of a major employer; or macro-economic transition to a non-traditional economic base (e.g. assembly plants to knowledge-based advanced manufacturing). 

Shock could equally be a shock delivered by Mother Nature such as Southern Alberta’s 2013 floods; The Beast that hit Fort Mac last year; or Goderich, Ontario’s 2011 tornado.  All can be devastating for local businesses, residents and the local Council. 

The bottom-line is: How quickly can you recover?   The ability to react quickly is closely related to

  1. The historic flexibility of a community
  2. Preparedness: how well Council and staff have anticipated and planned their social, economic and physical infrastructure for risk events.

In today’s economy, the communities that survive and thrive have:

  • An attractive, desirable environment with quality infrastructure, services and amenities for families, newcomers and visitors;
  • A diversified economy that doesn’t rely on one sector and is resistant to economic shocks;
  • A business-friendly Council and administration that is proactive in helping existing and new businesses thrive;
  • A workforce with the skills required by employers, and a willingness to learn and be trained;
  • An engaged Chamber of Commerce and other business groups; 
  • A up to date asset database that recognizes physical, economic, and social strengths;
  • Attraction(s) and a unique selling proposition (USP) for each specific target audience: residents, visitors and investors;
  • Current, practiced, and understood emergency planning, and most importantly:
  • A strategic plan of how to make that happen!


Follow future blogs on: Planning for Resiliency; Community Case Study in Resiliency

Shawna Lawson (Stonehouse) BComm (UofA), MSc (Planning), EcD is a McSweeney Economic Development Associate Consultant, responding to the particular needs smaller municipalities that require economic and community development services.  Shawna has worked with communities in Ontario, Alberta, the U.K. and Asia towards economic sustainability.  


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The Lost Craft: Municipal Industrial Land Development

Across Canada, we are observing an alarming and disturbing trend relating to the lack of shovel-ready employment/industrial lands. How have we arrived at this situation?

In “earlier times”, economic developers across Canada were actively and competitively engaged in ensuring the provision of sufficient lands to accommodate business growth and investment. Somehow, this craft seems to have faded in prominence. The lack of attention to this economic development foundation has resulted in too many communities being unable to compete for investment (while the price of land skyrockets).

Those that have dedicated time and resources have had sweet benefits. One client’s total land and infrastructure investment in one industrial park was $1 M, with sales to date of $3 M (20 acres remaining) generating annual taxes of $1.6 M, and creating 686 jobs to date.  The experience of another recent client:

  • Over 11 years, an annual average of 351,000 square feet of industrial building space was constructed, consuming an average of 54 acres annually;
  • Developments on municipally developed lands over a period of 16 years now annually generate in excess of $12 M in taxes, retaining 1,836 jobs, and creating 3,659 new jobs.

Follow my blog series - which I hope will help rekindle some of the lost craft of developing municipal industrial land as we address topics such as:

  • Where do I start? How do I even begin the discussion of the need with Council? Why do I as an economic developer have to do it anyways? Why isn’t the private sector doing it?
  • Do I have the skills? Can I do this? Trepidations of an economic developer getting engaged in land development.
  • What is my market demand? 
  • What’s my supply? How much supply is enough? Break it down, what do we really have? What if we build it and nobody comes?
  • Some options for public-private cooperation
  • Industrial subdivision planning - what are you trying to achieve?
  • Do all industrial parks need to be fully serviced?

In addition to his international and Canadian economic development certifications, Eric McSweeney is an Accredited Land Consultant (ALC) and a Commercial Investment Member (CCIM). He has completed land development related projects for more than two dozen communities, and has developed and sold more than $20M of business park lands. One of his innovative public-private land development projects has been published in the International Economic Development Council Journal.   

"McSweeney & Associates demonstrated a considerable flexibility and adaptability to ever-changing circumstances while undertaking a complex industrial land business case analysis, and was able to make strong recommendations tailored to our environment."

Jean-Marc Lacasse, Manager of Economic Development, City of Chestermere

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When you say “economic development”, what exactly do you mean?

Ian Duff, Director of Economic Development Consulting
Twitter: @IanDuff583

Below, Ian discusses the meaning of Economic Development and why the timing is right to have the discussion in your community about where you are in the Economic Development process.

After reviewing the results from this past Monday’s Ontario 2014 Municipal Election, it would seem that there are going to be several new faces around Ontario municipal and county council tables starting this December 1st. As many of the candidates in Ontario appeared to have campaigned on "economic development” as a top priority, this is an opportune time to put together some thoughts that can be shared and discussed with your elected officials. Whether your community is in Ontario or elsewhere and whether your Council members are returning or new to the political arena, I hope you find these ideas useful.

One of the most fascinating aspects of economic development is the mere definition of the term. I am not talking about the economic development definitions that can be found in a text book, but instead I am referring to what economic development professionals, elected officials and community members think they mean when they talk about "economic development”.


I've had the privilege of working with many different communities throughout Ontario and Nova Scotia and I have observed when people speak about economic development they are actually talking about the side-effects of a prosperous business community: namely an increase in jobs and a stronger commercial/industrial tax base. In the end, a business exists to make money. Contrary to some beliefs, a business is rarely in the business solely to create local jobs (although there are some establishments that choose to grow locally). I can also say with confidence that a business is never in business just to pay taxes! Yet often "economic development” is used as a term describing the attraction of jobs and the expansion of a community’s tax base.

Economic development should not be considered an outcome, but instead needs to be viewed as a process. Simply put, economic development is the process of undertaking a specific set of actions with an end goal of creating the conditions for businesses to prosper. Whether this is about investment retention, expansion or attraction, the basic economic development process is the same. Different communities are at different stages in this process and all have unique economic development priorities.

Now is an excellent time to educate new and old elected officials on how your community’s economic development process is defined, where you are in that process and what you and your elected officials can do together to help create that investment friendly environment that will entice businesses to thrive. Finally, remember that economic development is a continuous process (not a project) and a long-term investment into your community’s future well-being. It is not a silver bullet that will immediately transform your economy. It will take a committed, coordinated, and concerted long-term effort to ensure that your economic development process is well-defined and implemented so that in the end businesses locate, stay and expand in your community to make profits.  Jobs and assessment will follow that success.

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Local Support Brews New Economic Generator


Jordan Duff, Economic Development Consultant
LinkedIn: Jordan Duff

Below, Jordan shares an example of a local business and community working together to mutual benefit.

In 2006, Vankleek Hill, a small town in Eastern Ontario, became the home to an independent and family-run brewery: Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company. The journey from concept to business began a couple years previous, as so many brilliant ideas do, over beers. Father and son, Tim and Steve Beauchesne, were discussing their employment future over pints when the idea started brewing. Tim had run a local textile factory in Vankleek Hill for years and the factory was closing down. Both had experience as entrepreneurs and decided to make the brewery their next venture.The beer was initially brewed off-site until the textile factory was transformed into a brewery. Soon, Beau’s flagship beer Lugtread Lager began appearing in Ottawa-area restaurants and bars and within two years, unique ceramic 750ml bottles of the golden goodness was on the shelves of select LCBOs. Presently, Beau’s ships all over Ontario and has recently made headway into Quebec and New York state. The business that once employed 6 people has expanded to 120 employees and is one of the largest employers in town. Through it all, the company has remained fiercely loyal to their hometown and the town has reciprocated.

Take, for example, Beau’s annual Oktoberfest event, started in 2008. The Bavarian beer event began as a small gathering in brewery’s yard before seeing steady growth year after year. This October, the 2-day event raised $95,000 for charity, attracted 14,000 visitors and featured 8 bands, 28 restaurants and nearly 100 varieties of beer. The company spent over $350,000 on local suppliers and services to put on the event. For a town hovering around 2,000 residents, this is massive. And for this festival to work, it requires the support of the community. Volunteers handle ticket lines, beer sales and game booths. The local fire department directs traffic and parking.

This tourism event has become an economic driver for the community. Accommodations are packed, restaurants are full and people are discovering this picturesque small town between Montreal and Ottawa. It is not often that one home-grown business makes such an impact in a community but, as Beau’s and Vankleek Hill have shown, it can happen. This mutual support is crucial as it’s a symbiotic relationship between business and community that is too often taken for granted by either side. This fun event is an excellent example of getting it right.


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fazeel baig 4 years ago
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Ontario Government Grants for Agri-Food Processors Offer up to $350K in Funding Over 5 Years

Guest post from Mentor Works

  Chris Casemore, Director of Client Management and Development
Twitter: @ChrisCasemore
LinkedIn: Chris Casemore

Ontario Government Grants for Agri-Food Processors Offer up to $350K in Funding Over 5 Years

The agriculture and food processing sectors are among the most heavily funded in Canada as regular recipients of 10’s of billions in funding annually. Through 2014, the sector's prominence in the government funding arena will continue with several popular and accessible programs being offered on both the provincial and federal levels of government. Of the funding programs available to food processors, "
Ontario’s Growing Forward 2 (GF2) funding for project implementation and capacity building” stand out as two of the most popular and accessible.

Growing Forward 2 Ontario: Capacity Building

Capacity building projects are eligible for funding of up to 50% of project costs, with a cap of $350,000 over 5 years. Applications are being accepted on an ongoing basis with projects being required to fit into the 6 focus areas of Growing Forward 2. Eligible projects include strategic planning, audits or assessments, and training or skills development.

Growing Forward 2 Ontario: Project Implementation

The Project Implementation stream of funding from the Growing Forward 2 program is focused on helping Ontario-based Processors, who have completed Capacity Building activities, address and resolve a risk or issue that was discovered in that process.
Additional Government Business Grants Programs Available to Food Processors in Ontario.

Eligible implementation projects will receive up to 35% in projects costs; up to 50% of project costs for Innovative projects to a maximum of $350,000 over the 5-year term of the funding, including Capacity Building and Project Implementation related activities. In order to qualify for GF2 funding for project implementation projects firms are encouraged to complete a Capacity Building project(s) and want to resolve an issue discovered in that process, which fits with one of the focus areas of the Growing Forward 2 program. In take periods for this year are from May 6, 2014 to August 28, 2014 and September 2, 2014 to December 11, 2014 and eligible costs can be backdated until April 1, 2014.

Additional Government Business Grants Programs Available to Food Processors in Ontario

Also of interest to food processors in Ontario is the $10M per year Local Food Fund, a program that offers support to innovative projects that result in the improved access to, demand for, and awareness of local food in Ontario. And on the national level Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has created the AgriMarketing Program to enhance the marketing capacity and competitiveness of the Canadian agriculture, agri-food, fish and seafood sectors.

Subscribe to Mentor Works Weekly E-newsletter in order to stay up to date on government funding available to help your business overcome financial obstacles to growth or register for an upcoming government funding workshop to learn more about grants and loans available to your business. Mentor Works provides comprehensive funding strategies, from discovering ideal funding opportunities to applicant support services. Feel free to contact Mentor Works directly to learn more.

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#FundingFriday - Don't Forget to Follow @McSweeneyEcDev on Twitter

Jordan Duff, Economic Development Consultant
LinkedIn: Jordan Duff

Below, Jordan shares the details on McSweeney & Associates' newest social media efforts to better serve our clientele.



As part of McSweeney & Associates’ efforts to better serve our past and future clients, we will begin sharing some public and private funding/incentive programs that some communities and economic development offices may be eligible for. Every Friday (starting this July 11) we will tweet out a funding program we think our clients might be interested in; giving new meaning to TGIF. We’ll organize these under the hashtag #FundingFriday to help you filter the incentives from other tweets and because alliteration is fun.

Give us a follow @McSweeneyEcDev and watch our Twitter feed on Fridays for links to helpful funding programs. Feel free to share or retweet any useful programs with others. Let us know if you have useful funding programs you wish to share with other communities. We’ll have other interesting news stories and updates from the world of economic development that we will share through this feed as well.

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