McSweeney- McSweeney Perspectives

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 2 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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Who’s the Real Expert...?


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

Below, Ian explores how the combination of the Economic Developer's local insight and the experience of a consultant can lead to a more successful project.


As an Economic Development Consultant I have had the opportunity to see many different communities across Canada and interact with some really great people. That being said, there is one comment I often hear that is somewhat misleading – "Well you must know that, you are the expert…”

Yes, in many respects I am an expert in several areas related to Economic and Community Development and I always do my best to ensure the communities I work with get the best guidance and advice. Yet, often the "you are the expert” comment is related to a very specific community issue or local historical fact. The truth is that while we consultants are knowledgeable in this field: we are not the experts on your community, you are!
Though it may sound strange for a consultant to tell their clients that they are the experts, in reality nobody knows the community better. Often times, when beginning a new project there is a misconception that consultants have the silver bullet solution or that they have access to a magical black box of answers. In truth, the most successful projects heavily involve the client (often Economic Development Officer) and consultant working closely together with the community’s economic stakeholders. The consultant can provide a fresh set of eyes and a wealth of knowledge and experience, particularly in process, while the client can provide local knowledge, connections and facilitate strong two-way communication. Neither is effective on its own and both are required for a truly successful project. 

Taking this approach one step further, it is critical that the EDO (or the local resource) be the face of the majority of economic and community development projects – especially strategies. The community needs to see the EDO as the leader of the project, as the expert and the one who will be responsible for coordinating the implementation of any actions that arise. The consultant is active behind the scenes helping to facilitate the relationship between the community and Economic Development office. The more engaged the EDO is in the project and in the community, the more impressive the results, and hopefully, the more successful in implementation.

In my own experience, I have worked with various clients who have been engaged in the community and project at differing levels. For me, there is nothing more rewarding than working with a client who is engaged both in their community and in their projects. Consultants have a definite role to play through the process as a guide and as a resource but the client (EDO) should never underestimate the value of their contribution to the success of a project. 

So next time the question "Who is the Real Expert?” is asked, remember you are the true expert when it comes to matters affecting your local economy, local businesses and your local community – I am just here to facilitate success. 

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Your Brand is an Iceberg

Municipal leaders and economic development professionals recognize the importance of having an effective brand for their community. They also recognize that branding is more than having an attractive visual identifier or logo.

An interesting way of looking at branding is as if it was an iceberg. The part you see – the 10% – is the logo, the marketing materials, the website, etc. This is where promises are made, and where the community usually makes its first impression. It could be referred to as its ‘Brand Expression’.

But the 90% under the water is even more significant. How the community deals with its stakeholders; how it responds to requests; the programs and incentives it offers. What kind of experience do residents and visitors – and investors – have when they deal with the municipality? We can call this the ‘Brand Experience’.

Ideally, the top and bottom match! A brand is not sustainable if there are gaps between promise and performance.
The welcoming messages in the literature should reflect a welcoming community in reality. The promises made in the promotional campaign will come to life when a visitor experiences the community for the first time. The claims of a catchy tagline are supported by testimonials from real people.

Municipal branding is a dynamic, 360-degree, multi-level, corporation-wide, holistic marketing process that starts from within, and spreads outward to the target audience. 

The brand should reflect the marketing plan. Done well it serves to attract interest, build trust, provide solid value and generate lasting relationships.

Tom Graham – Principal + Creative Director of TD Graham + Associates Marketing Communications.

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Just the facts, anywhere, anytime, all the time…

Mobile devices will drive decisions anywhere, anytime, and all the time.

Gartner Group recently stated that in 2013, total shipments of all IT devices will rise 5.9% to 2.32 billion units. But the makeup of those shipments has changed dramatically in recent years. In 2013, Gartner estimates 1.8 billion smartphones will ship – 6 times the number of PCs! Tablet shipments are far behind at only 184 million units, but that is up 53% over 2012.

"Consumers want anytime-anywhere computing that allows them to consume and create content with ease, but also share and access that content from a different portfolio of products,” according to Carolina Milanesi, vice president at Gartner. "Mobility is paramount in both mature and emerging markets.”

There are approximately 900,000 apps for both Android and for iOS (Apple iPhone and iPad Operating System) for these portable, less expensive, but powerful mobile devices - so they can do a bunch of stuff, but what does that mean for businesses, and you, the economic developer?

One example of how this trend impacts business, involves the use of location services on the devices. GIS enabled devices show businesses, events and attractions in the immediate vicinity. So, tourists (and residents) can find attractions' open and closing times, find restaurant ratings for eateries close by, review menus, get directions, report potholes along the way, pay using their smartphone, and post a review of their experience afterwards.

From the economic development perspective, we know that your community gets checked out online by site selection professionals - more and more, that will be on a mobile device. This raises several considerations. Do you have a mobile version of your website? Have you read your 400 word webpages on a mobile device? Are the facts quick and easy to find? Can your contact information be found, with clickable phone and email access?

Take a few minutes, put yourself in the mind frame of a site selector, and check your economic development web presence on your mobile device.

By Richard Woolridge and Eric McSweeney

Richard Woolridge

Currently an Assistant Professor of Management Information Systems at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Previously, twenty years in industry as an entrepreneur, consultant, process developer, project leader, information architect, teacher, developer, and innovator.

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Media Relations - The Missing Economic Development Tool

Over the past fifteen years, I've provided media relations services to a range of organizations in the private and public sectors. The list includes 50 start up technology companies, several manufacturing firms, national associations even large publicly traded companies. Prior to that I had a long and interesting career in municipal economic development.

Of course, client organizations retain my services for one thing - increasing their profile in the media in Canada and, in some cases, in international media outlets.

The ability to recognize a good story is absolutely essential to effective media relations but in my experience the majority of organizations don't do it very well.

A few years ago, I attended a luncheon hosted by a development agency in an Ontario municipality. The speaker was the CEO of a successful company that manufactured a product in demand by various customers particularly in the US.

He gave an excellent presentation, noting at one point that a television series in the US had included the product in one of their episodes. Sales were brisk and there were several new products on the planning board. I approached the speaker at the end of the event, introduced myself. I asked about their media relations effort. As it turned out this company did no media relations whatsoever.

Furthermore, I discovered that the municipality hadn't done anything in conjunction with the company either. Talk about a missed media opportunity!

Municipal economic development professionals are busy from a marketing perspective with paid advertising, direct mail; social media content creation and collateral. But I wonder how many think about media relations. And I am not talking about sending a news release to the local newspaper. I'm talking about assessing all economic activity in the municipality, identifying interesting stories within key sectors and getting those stories to the media up to and including national and international media outlets.

You would be amazed at how much media coverage can be generated from a simple story that is communicated to the right reporter at the right time in the right manner. I mean national and international coverage too. When that kind of coverage occurs everyone benefits: the company, the municipality, the economic development office, the Chamber of Commerce - everyone in that community gets a boost from seeing (one of theirs" in the media.

I believe that within the vast majority of Canadian municipalities there are all kinds of great stories. But they will never see the light of day unless someone recognizes that fact. Done well, media relations can have a profound and lasting effect on municipal economic development.

Shaun Markey is President of Shaun Markey Communications Inc., a boutique PR and media firm, which has provided media communication services to a range of Canadian clients in the private and public sectors. He is located in Ottawa, Canada.


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