Last week I was lending a hand during the Sudbury portion of the Think North ll Summit and was fortunate to catch the opening remarks by New Zealand speaker Stuart Trundle, as well as Ireland's John Gallagher. I was literally captivated by their enthusiastic and straight forward approach to regional and community economic development. Their messages were more than just moving, but extremely powerful, to say the least.
Stuart Trundle, Venture Taranaki Trust's chief executive, is responsible for leading the New Zealand regional economic development agency. During Stuart's presentation, he positioned Venture Taranaki Trust as a very progressive and aggressive economic development agency that focuses on getting only the best individuals to be part of the team - there are no compromises in terms of the best talent.
Speaking to a diverse crowd of Northern Ontario economic development stakeholders, the one aspect of Stuart's commentary that really hit home were his observations on Isolation being a Matter of Perspective. Often, one thinks of Northern Ontario communities as being isolated or distant from their markets, but compared to Taranaki, New Zealand (where cows outnumber residents 7 to 1 and whose closest neighbor is Antarctica), Northern Ontario is relatively strategic and only a short hop to most major North American markets.Stuart is a tough act to follow, but WYG International's John Gallagher simply picked up on Stuart's energy and the audience's attentiveness. Although based in Ireland, John works around the globe to assist communities in understanding how they can develop to their fullest potential. John relayed stories of three separate communities in Africa and Bosnia, with a few people that had enough hope and determination to completely change their community circumstances. Using storytelling to get his message across, John told Three Stories, which took place over a period of Three Years that focused on the efforts, insights and sheer determination of Three People in each community. Three People made a tremendous difference in each of their communities. In the end, the actions and success of Three People was based on the hope that they could make their communities significantly better. I am not sure if it was the message that was delivered by John or his graceful storytelling abilities, or just his Irish accent, but his message of hope and daring to dream big definitely hit the mark - as long as there is hope and determined people willing take action, any community can achieve greatness.
What is investment readiness and why is there so much "buzz" around it?
Part of the reason is that there are many perceptions (and in some cases, misconceptions) as to what being investment ready means. Let's take a brief look at investment readiness (sometimes referred to as community competitiveness), and in future blogs, we will probe the various aspects of becoming more investment ready.
In a nutshell, "investment readiness" is the state of community preparedness and competitiveness to retain, grow, and attract business investment. Simple, right? What is difficult, however, is actually being investment ready. Having assessed dozens of communities, it is safe to say that all communities could be more investment ready. This was also the conclusion of a landmark report on Ontario's Local Economies in Transition Initiative.
So what are the 7 elements that contribute to investment readiness?
- Up to date, and complete data and information related to location and investment decision-making.
- A comprehensive asset inventory - a documentation of a community's "resources and product offering" (in the broadest of terms) that supports business relocations and expansions. Items could include natural resources, post-secondary institutions and research establishments.
- An understanding of the community's strengths, weaknesses, competitive advantages and disadvantages - generally, as well as for specific target sectors.
- Continued community improvements to increase overall quality of life and strengthen your community's "resources and product offering".
- Communication tools, such as an economic development website, that make it easy to find data and information on your community and its assets - and that is easily accessible in different formats.
- The ability to understand, interpret and to respond comprehensively to investment inquiries (almost instantly!).
- The ability and willingness to orchestrate site visits, to "read" the client, to follow through on commitments, and to move the deal to a close.
Becoming investment ready is not a one-time effort - it requires constant and consistent time and attention, although there are tools available to save you time and effort. Maintaining your community's investment readiness supports strategy development and implementation, and is a foundation for any form of investment attraction program or activities. And, hence, that is why there is a "buzz" around investment readiness.
No matter the year or the decade, success boils down to LEADERSHIP - the ability to partner effectively for positive change. As communities across the globe are experiencing phenomenal game-changing circumstances affecting the economic, social, and environmental conditions we live in, the call for such leadership has never been greater.
Perhaps one of the more prolific game-changers has been the growing dispersion and adoption of information and communications technologies. This great global connector is enabling people and companies to locate just about anywhere in the world. And while communities once competed on cost for becoming a community of choice, today they compete on "quality of place" considerations. However, such considerations are not community-based but regional in nature. Therefore, a community's "globility" - that is, the ability to survive and thrive in the global marketplace - depends upon the ability to think, act, and compete regionally.
In recognition of this, the Growth Plan for Northern Ontario 2011 aims to foster exciting and groundbreaking partnerships among northern community and business leaders as they engage in regional strategic planning for economic development. In support of these endeavors, McSweeney & Associates reviewed 24 examples of regional programs from Canada as well as Australia, Finland, New Zealand, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America. A review of these examples and others reveals a myriad of value propositions for undertaking a regional approach to economic development, including but not limited to:
- Fosters a unified regional voice, identity, and brand.
- Enables communities to play in a world economy where regions (not individual communities) compete effectively.
- Strengthens existing industry competitiveness through access to other industry members and regional resources.
- Facilitates high-performance regions based on leveraging the collective regional strengths and assets where local communities share in the regional wealth and prosperity.
- Creates a sustainable partnership framework for working together and acting strategically.
- Enables communities to build their relationship capital with people beyond their borders - critical for surviving in a world where such relationships are only growing in importance.
- Develops a "neutral ground" for sharing knowledge and making joint decisions to address regional and local matters.
- Infuses local decision making with timely, relevant, and intelligence-based information affecting the region.
- Provides additive (as opposed to subtractive) value as it does not require local communities to give up their individuality, identity, or plans.
- Empowers communities to "do more with less" and to undertake previously impossible efforts, or those they could not do on their own.
- Fosters more efficient allocation of efforts, programs, deployment of resources, etc. and less duplication and associated unnecessary costs.
- Creates a stronger "sense of community" among people throughout the region - which fosters "staying power" among residents and businesses and is attractive to future investors.
Every community - no matter the size - has the potential to grow new firms, support existing industries, and attract new investment dollars. However, the fundamental truth is that their ability to be competitive for economic activities depends upon the partnerships and relationships they build regionally.
Joy Wilkins is a frequent advisor, speaker, instructor, and author on economic development, strategic planning, and quality management topics. Currently, she is serving as a Senior Fellow with The University of Georgia's Fanning Institute when she contributes to the organization's efforts in leadership development and community capacity building. Previously, she served as Group Manager for Community Innovation Services at Georgia Tech's Enterprise Innovation Institute. A Certified Economic Developer, Joy serves as a member of the International Economic Development Council (IEDC) Board of Directors and has served in the economic development profession since 1994.
Joy is collaborator and contributor to various McSweeney & Associates projects, and recently provided a significant contribution to a report prepared for the Ontario Ministry of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry on best practices in regional economic strategic planning.
These are the questions the Ontario Ministry of Culture commissioned McSweeney & Associates to answer in a soon to be released report, using Prince Edward County as a case study. The report provides the most decisive and comprehensive proof to date that cultural development does result in real economic growth.
In Prince Edward County (PEC) cultural development is an embedded pillar of the economic development strategy. The cultural plan identified the need to manage growth in order to protect the underlying quality of place, the need to extend places where culture happens, and the importance of building cultural tourism.
The case study offers the following facts:
- Between 2001 and 2008:
- The unemployment rate in PEC decreased while it increased in Ontario
- The employment rate increased in PEC while it declined in Ontario
- The rate of job creation (9.4%) in PEC was higher than in Ontario (6%)
- The annual value of issued commercial building permits climbed from $0.8 M to $7.0 M in five years
- 36% of the jobs created in PEC in a five year period were in culture, compared to only 4.6% in Ontario, and 11% nationally
- The 230 PEC jobs created between 2001 and 2006 in culture represents an increase of 96% in cultural employment, compared to an increase in cultural employment in Ontario of only 4%
- Tourism and cultural are intrinsically linked in PEC: person visits to PEC increased 93% in 6 years, while Ontario visits declined 4.6% in the same period
- PEC Tourism employment grew 13.5% in a five year period while declining 11.7% in Ontario over the same period.
Thus, municipal cultural planning can definitely be considered a critical process in strengthening and leveraging local community assets in order to enhance and develop new opportunities for local economic development, while also being a critical component of an integrated, holistic and sustainable approach to community planning and economic development.
I was fortunate to steal away from my desk on Tuesday of this week to attend a one-day Creative Rural Economy Conference in Kingston. The day provided me with better insights into what some of the leading local and international Creative Economy experts and practitioners are thinking, but there were two specific points throughout my day that really caught my attention.
The highlight of my day was the afternoon plenary session delivered by Peter Kenyon. Running on about 5 hours of sleep, due to his day and a half long journey from Perth Australia, and given one of the most difficult timeslots in the day - immediately after lunch - Peter was able to capture everyone's attention with both his energy and his story-telling style of delivering his message. His views on Creative Economies and his use of real life examples - Margaret River in Western Australia - were very insightful and allowed the audience to follow the progression of a community that truly evolved due to its local GEOGRAPHY as well as creative and cultural influences. Lucky for me, I sat beside Peter for lunch and am looking forward to continuing our discussion on Asset Based Community Development this Friday in North Gower at another workshop he is presenting on behalf of the Rural Ontario Institute. If anyone gets a chance to hear Peter speak, take advantage of the opportunity and enjoy the experience.
The other point of the day that grabbed my attention was the presentation by Craig Desjardins, Executive Director, Prince Edward/Lennox & Addington CFDC. Craig was speaking on "Challenges and Solutions for Creative Sector Businesses" and I thought the way he outlined the barriers (and solutions) to rural creative sector businesses was right on the mark. The main barriers that Craig outlined were as follows:
- Infrastructure Issues (ie. Broadband)
- Lack of Human Capital
- Innovation Issues
- Investment Capital Issues
- Intangible Issues (ie. Vibrant Networks, Culture of Collaboration, etc.).
I truly enjoyed the day, and came away with some new insights and perspectives on the rural Creative Economy.
The Importance of Maps in Economic Development
A site selector finds Aurora's economic development website. But is it the right Aurora? A quick google search reveals an Aurora in each of Colorado, Illinois, Ohio, Missouri, and Oregon in addition to Aurora, Ontario. A good location map answers the questions: do I have the right Aurora, and where is Aurora in relation to (name a city)?
Everyone is familiar with the expression 'a picture can speak a thousand words'. This is especially true for maps used in economic development websites and marketing materials. Maps are highly sought after by site selectors because a good map can convey a lot of information very quickly. Imagine yourself reading a description along these lines "Our city is located along highway X near highway Y. The city is approximately 200 km west of City W and 150 Km east of Municipality Z". Wouldn't you rather glance at a good map and observe the same and much more spatial information in an instant? Trust us, so does a site selector.
In a study performed specifically looking at site selectors' use of Economic Development websites, it was ascertained that 84% of users were either very likely or somewhat likely to visit a page entitled 'maps' (Economic Development Website Users Study 2008, by Chabin Concepts and Austin Consulting - two of our strategic partners, along with First Energy). Obviously good maps are considered a useful tool by site selectors, and they seek them out whenever they can.
Site selectors are looking for opportunities to exclude communities from their list of prospective investment locations. Do not give them that opportunity - Here is how...
The most obvious and necessary map to have in your arsenal is a good Location Map - this map will quickly reference where your community is located with respect to major recognizable cities, provinces and/or states, and landmarks such as the Great Lakes. Some other useful maps are Distance to Market/Market Access Map, Transportation Map, and Labour Shed Map. Examples are shown below.
As with other graphics used in marketing materials, the appearance of your maps will help set the professional appearance of your site and are "re-useable" in your marketing materials and publications, such as the community profile. Maps need to be professionally prepared by a graphic designer (GIS-generated maps are not suitable), need to be simple and readable, and have a modern appearance and colour selection. Lastly, make sure your maps are highly visible and easy to find from the home page of your website - you don't want these useful gems to go to waste.
Market Access Map
Labour Shed Map