Who’s the Real Expert...?


Ian Duff, Director of Economic Development Consulting
Email: Ian@mcsweeney.ca
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. www.tdgraham.com
Contact: tdgraham@tdgraham.com.

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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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Learn the "Value of Investing in Canadian Downtowns"

A national "first of its kind" study on the value of investing in Canadian downtowns has recently been released. The International Downtowns Association - Canadian Issues Task Force engaged the Canadian Urban Institute (CUI) to carry out this ground breaking research.

The project examined 10 Canadian downtowns (Halifax, Fredericton, Ottawa, Toronto, London, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Vancouver and Victoria) to measure performance and build the body of knowledge on value created in downtowns as a result of investments made. It is hoped that the research will spur further investment in downtowns across Canada.

Key Findings:

  1. Canadian downtowns are enjoying a period of renaissance. Downtowns are moving in positive directions such as: residential growth; building unique education, culture and entertainment offerings; while maintaining a position of commercial strength.
  2. Partnerships and long term commitment are crucial to maiximize revitalization efforts. The health of downtown is strongly tied to successful collaborations and partnerships aligned behind an inspired and shared vision.
  3. Residential growth is transforming downtowns across the country. Downtowns have experienced a renaissance in downtown living, achieving as much as 83% population growth over 10 years.
  4. Downtowns are maintaining a strong commercial position. While less dominant in the office and retail markets than in the past, many are experiencing a resurgence of office growth, and there are promising signs that retail will develop alternate smaller formats better suited to downtowns.
  5. Institutions have brought many inspiring additions to Canada's downtowns. The growth of downtown post-secondary education has substantially strengthened downtowns, and in some cases, changes have been transformational.
  6. Downtowns are making a major contribution to the bottom line of municipalities. While frequently occupying as little as 1% of citywide land area, downtowns often generate 10 to 20 times that in terms of municipal tax revenues, and in a few cases as much as 20-25% of all municipal tax revenues.
  7. Public investments on a range of scales create the foundation for future private investment. Public investments in arts, culture, entertainment, education, transit, open space and incentives downtown signal confidence and support for downtowns, which leads to the stimulation of private sector investment.
  8. Measuring performance of downtowns empowers decision makers to understand the value of downtowns. Continued measurement of downtown performance through time will further demonstrate and reinforce the value of public investing in downtown.

The full report is available here.

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Challenges & Tips on Integrating Economic Development & Sustainability

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), a Canadian leader in municipal sustainability and supporter of the Green Municipal Fund, has recently been exploring how sustainability is being integrated into local economic development initiatives across Canada.

Working in conjunction with the Economic Developers Association of Canada (EDAC), FCM engaged McSweeney & Associates, in partnership with Grant Consulting, to conduct further research on the topic in March 2012. Based upon the results of interviews with a variety of sustainable economic development champions from across the country, findings were compiled in an Overview of Trends and Best Practices in Sustainable Economic Development.

This overview report then acted as a primer for a facilitated focus group session of participants from across Canada. The session topics included the barriers to integration of sustainability and economic development, what is working well now, and the potential solutions to overcome the identified barriers based upon the real world experiences of the participants in implementing the sustainability concept into the daily operations of their municipalities and communities.

A few of the identified challenges to integrating economic development and sustainability included:

  • Aligning stakeholders in order to obtain buy-in, while ensuring varied regions and attitudes towards sustainability received adequate attention and consideration;
  • Meeting the expectations of all stakeholders; and
  • Selling the concept of sustainability to municipal leadership and the community itself.

Tips from participants on successful integration included:

  • Keep an open mind with regards to sustainability and what it can bring to the community in the future;
  • Look at sustainability from a longer-term perspective and know where you want to go;
  • Ensure all stakeholders have a role to play in the implementation of sustainability;
  • Make sustainability a part of the municipal culture; and
  • Follow through on the implementation of sustainable economic development in the community and its day-to-day operations.
Our next blog on this topic will feature a series of recommendations which arose from this important work.
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Technology Megatrends impacting Economic Development

Enter megatrend into a search engine and you get a lot of hits. Everything from John Naisbitt's original 1988 book, to geopolitics, to new age tenets, can be found. When you further restrict the search to technology, it seems that a significant percentage of this planet's consulting companies have insight into the next big thing(s). From my perspective, after being a practicing information technology professional for 20 years and then moving to academia, I see four trends shaping the information technology space over the next decade. Maybe they will be megatrends, or maybe something new will overshadow them all, but are all going to be important:

  • mobile devices
  • social media
  • cloud computing
  • and data analytics

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

Social media will give consumers the power to change your products and services, or kill them.

Cloud computing will provide sufficient capacity, cheaply enough for individuals, small business, and big corporations to do things they cannot currently imagine.

Lastly, data analytics, along with big data, will enable knowing what you cannot currently know.

These trends represent major features that will force us to re-think information technology, but ultimately they may have a bigger impact on how we think about our public and private organizations. I am sure that you have already felt some of the impacts of these megatrends in your day to day economic development work. We will talk about each trend and some possibilities of what they might mean to economic development in future posts.


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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The 6 Steps of Municipal Cultural Planning

In this blog, we continue our exploration of Cultural Planning and the economic benefits that it brings to local government.

There are six steps in doing a Cultural Plan. Your associate at McSweeney can explain these in detail, but the steps are:

  1. First, get your Council and your community together and approve the concept of cultural planning (and ideally a suitable budget).
  2. Set up a Steering Group - an experienced consultant to help guide the process.
  3. Do your research. Gather the data. You may want to also do a Cultural Mapping project.
  4. Engage the community. I can't emphasize enough how vital this is. Reach out to the community, listen to them, get fresh ideas, and make it an opportunity to really explore a new vision with the community.
  5. Do the report and make specific recommendations, including an Action Plan. Don't let the report gather dust on a shelf. Get your local government approval.
  6. And finally, work out an implementation plan and budget, and then DO IT!

Cultural Planning is about shaping, developing and enhancing the economic future of your municipality. It is about identifying and harnessing your cultural assets. It is about place and place-making. It is about strengthening the arts and artisans. It is about how heritage preservation can be an economic driver for you. Then you need to link those to your community's strategic and economic objectives.

That's why a careful strategy and identification of community objectives and needs are an important part of a municipal cultural plan. An experienced consultant can provide the process to do that.


GORD HUME. Author of "Taking Back Our Cities" and other books. http://www.gordhume.com/ or email gord@gordhume.com

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Telling Your Municipality's Story

As part of your economic development marketing plan, here are five key steps to keep in mind when preparing to tell your municipality's story.

Do the research - Building on the work of your economic development strategy, further research can be undertaken to determine gaps in your current marketing efforts, and uncover specific business needs and opportunities.

Have a story to tell - Start with highlighting your unique competitive advantages. What are the community's main strengths? What is the main benefit of your community's location? Is it the multi-skilled people in your labour force? Creativity and innovation in your key sectors? A cost advantage in shipping goods?

Tell it well - Always lead with benefits, of course. But different audiences have different needs, and messages must be developed that will strike a chord with their intended target. Having a strong brand is part of telling it well. It also means supporting the message with well-designed and creative materials, grabbing the attention of the recipient so he or she can see value in reading further.

Tell it often - Marketing studies show that responses increase when an integrated, coordinated, multi-channel approach is taken. Beyond simply purchasing media space or posting social media entries, there needs to be a process for keeping the marketing program on the rails.

Build the relationship - This is the punch line: creating and nurturing those contacts with whom you expect to do business - whether it is a prospect, an industry representative or an influencer.

Keeping these five steps in mind will help you develop a compelling story about your community - and lead to the long-term relationships you're seeking.



Tom Graham - Principal + Creative Director of TD Graham + Associates Marketing Communications. http://www.tdgraham.com/. Contact tdgraham@tdgraham.com.

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Regional economic cooperation - where to start?

Many municipalities struggle with the same economic development challenges, especially if they are located in a similar geographic area. Although it offers many benefits, regional economic cooperation is not always easy to start or sell to stakeholders. So what is the best way to get the ball rolling? First let's take a brief look at some of the benefits and challenges.

First of all, regional economic cooperation offers the following major economic benefits:

  • As a whole, there is more to sell - When municipalities work cooperatively, each one brings its own assets and strengths to the table. As such, the whole package offered to outsiders is larger, more varied, and increasingly attractive than would be the package offered by a single municipality working alone. It is also believed that businesses and consumers consider the region first before an actual municipality when making location or investment decisions - another reason to sell the region as a whole.
  • Sharing resources - By pooling resources (financial, human, etc.), cooperating municipalities can expand their economic development initiatives. The previously limited resources of the municipality when acting alone are now increased, allowing them to pursue larger and higher impact initiatives, and in markets not previously accessible.
  • Economies of scale - In many situations, it is not efficient for each municipality in a given region to deliver all of its own economic development services (leading to unnecessary duplication of efforts). By cooperating regionally, more can be done with the existing inputs.
  • Networking potential - By working through an expanded network, you will become much more aware of opportunities, learn from other people's experiences, better understand the varying interests in your region, and allow you to better align your efforts with those of other municipalities.

However, regional economic cooperation does also have some challenges. These include:

  • Politics - Political (and sometimes organizational) leadership structures often impede cooperation. By defining an undeniable mutual benefit from cooperation, politics can be overcome.
  • A culture of independence and self-sufficiency - Many organizations feel that they can do things best on their own of that help from others is not required; however, by working together greater results can be achieved by all parties.
  • Resistance to change/fear of failure - In order to combat the resistance to working with former competing regional partners, it is important to define a clear and compelling benefits-based call to action in order to win them over.
  • Focusing on the wrong things - The focus of the cooperation should be on bettering the region as a whole, not on narrow or limiting goals such as developing real estate or supporting businesses. It is also important that it be recognized that prosperity for the region is less likely to be achieved through traditional economic development approaches and that innovative, outside-the-box thinking is required.

So, where does one start when considering regional economic cooperation? Here are some tips to get you on your way:

  • Start small - Often the trust does not exist within a region to start with a large project such as a regional strategic plan. Start with a project that has broad support, and use that project to open the lines of communication and to build trust.
  • Define your region - This is the tough part, and there is no singular right answer. In order for regional cooperation to be effective however, it is essential that the involved municipalities are faced with similar challenges and opportunities. In addition, the defined region must be geographically reasonable, and the local leaders must be willing.
  • Set-up the framework - Identify a high-profile champion to lead. Make the decision-making process and expectations clear to all from the start.
  • Ensure effective leadership - The leadership should have vision and influence. In addition, they should be able to facilitate meetings, promote and lead discussions, mediate and mitigate conflicts, create a neutral playing field, organize ideas, keep participants informed and engaged, keep the discussion relevant, and push the collective effort towards resolution.
  • Communicate the process widely - From the beginning, ensure the process is transparent and communicated to both stakeholders and the public. Involve everyone early and often, ensure updates are communicated regularly.

Ultimately, the key to regional economic cooperation is to start talking - with colleagues, counterparts in other municipalities, and key stakeholders. Build the excitement and the support for cooperation. And once momentum is created, ensure it is maintained. Make regional economic cooperation a priority long-term initiative - and stick to it.

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Stale Data: The top Site Selector Frustration!

Remember what the economy looked like on May 13, 2006? That was the date of the last Canadian census for which we have published results... before a very significant decline in North American and Canadian manufacturing... before the auto manufacturing crisis, bailout, restructuring and subsequent recovery... before the collapse of the forestry sector... when gold hitting $700/ounce had pundits predicting a collapse in gold prices - ha!

So what relevance does 2006 data have as a descriptor of your current local economy? Not much, but yet the majority of economic development websites and profiles provide 2006 data!

Small wonder site selectors listed stale data as their top frustration when you think about the magnitude of changes in every economy since 2006!

But wait, the 2011 census data is coming - yes, it will slowly dribble out in 2012, and already a year old and in the "stale" category in terms of site selector needs for current year data.

So what is the solution? Reliable data estimates from reputable data mining companies. And how do you pick a reputable data mining company? Look for:

  • Data specialists: their only business is data, and their reputation and repeat business depends on it;
  • Depth of data mining: how many sources of data are utilized in the preparation of data values - How they mine the "gold" trends, correlations, nonlinearities in data to improve accuracy?
  • Scope of data variables: Are you getting all the data you need for economic development and site selection purposes, or a small sub-set?
  • Qualifications of the "data master": What are the educational and experience qualifications of the person(s) behind the data modelling? What is the sophistication and cross-reliability of data modelling? Whether their methodologies are related to your business objectives?

Fortunately, in our quest to offer only the highest quality services and recommendations to you, we have completed this research and are pleased to share our conclusions with you. Yes, current year data estimates requires an investment - but it pales in comparison to the cost of one site selector taking a pass because of frustrating stale data, circa 2006.

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Like a Scout: Be Prepared

This is the first of a series of blogs on Economic Development Marketing. Our experience working with Eric and the McSweeney team has introduced us to numerous communities - many of whom seem to face a similar challenge: How do we attract new investment, while retaining our existing businesses? At least a part of the answer: a good marketing plan.

An economic development marketing plan involves three components:

  1. An assessment of your community's marketing preparedness
  2. The development of marketing tools, tactics and timing
  3. Evaluation and refinement

Marketing preparedness is when you compare your current marketing efforts with where you want to be, and confirm the target audiences identified in your economic development strategy. It's also a chance to assess whether your community's brand reflects your new future direction - or whether it needs to be enhanced or refined.

With your marketing preparedness assessment complete, strategies can be developed, tailored to each specific audience. The strategies will outline the 'tools, tactics and timing' necessary to reach your marketing goals. They'll include identifying the right tools and knowing how and when to use them. Of course, tools will include tangible materials and well as media strategies, events and face-to-face selling. Ongoing evaluation and refinement on a regular basis keeps the plan dynamic and fresh.


The finished plan ought to be a fairly dynamic 'road map', identifying what makes your community a unique place to live, work, play and invest in. It serves to guide the actions of staff and allows for measured results. An effective marketing plan is key to directing the effort that will help attract the right investment to your community.

Tom Graham - Principal + Creative Director of TD Graham + Associates Marketing Communications. http://www.tdgraham.com/. Contact tdgraham@tdgraham.com.



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