November 2014

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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