McSweeney- McSweeney Perspectives

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. or email

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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. Contact

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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. Contact



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Advance - Get Cultural

Municipalities undertaking a Cultural Planning process are usually considered to be among the municipal leaders in Canada. It is a progressive and contemporary strategy.

Ontario is generally considered to be the most advanced jurisdiction in Canada - and perhaps including the United States - in Municipal Cultural Planning. Part of the reason for this goes to the Municipal Cultural Planning Inc. (a unique conglomerate of private and public interests that supports and promotes cultural planning and research) and the Ontario Ministry of Tourism and Culture.

The Ministry has been very supportive of cultural planning, and understands the economic benefits it can bring to local communities. In a unique program, the Ontario Ministry has been providing grants to towns, cities and counties, as well as First Nations and support groups, to undertake cultural planning projects, ranging from mapping to comprehensive community cultural plans. The program is called the Creative Communities Prosperity Fund (CCPF) and is a tremendous success. It is always over-subscribed. The program generally provides up to 80% of the cost for smaller municipalities, and up to 50% of the cost for larger communities.

This program offers brilliant leadership by a government ministry, and to the best of my knowledge is absolutely unique in North America. It is not surprising, therefore, that Ontario is such a leader in municipal cultural planning. This is a program and a concept that other provinces should be considering to assist their own towns and cities to undertake a municipal cultural plan.


GORD HUME. Author of "The Local Food Revolution" and other books. or email

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When is it Time for a New Strategy?

How do you know when it is time for a new community or economic development strategy? Here are a few telltale signs - any one of these should trigger the development of a new strategy.

  1. Your last strategy was completed when faxing was the hot new technology. Or if the strategy is stored in archives, if nobody knows you have one, if you never have had one, or it is around here somewhere.
  2. When the majority of action plans have been implemented or addressed - this typically takes 3-4 years.
  3. When there are significant new opportunities and/or challenges presented in the broader economy, or in your community. For example, what new economic opportunities emerge as a result of newly installed broadband coverage for your entire rural community?
  4. There is a lack of focus or lack of consensus on what the economic or community development priorities are. Perhaps the current strategy has far too many strategic themes and strategies - perhaps it is not strategic at all.
  5. There is confusion, duplication, or worse, competition over who does what amongst your community and/or economic development partners.

My observation over the years is that the single greatest challenge to successful economic development is the lack of focus on a very limited number of opportunities. The process of developing a new strategy should solve all of the above issues and build community momentum and stakeholder support for action-oriented implementation over the next few years.

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6 Good Reasons You Need a Dedicated ED Website

I am often asked by economic developers why a dedicated economic development site is so much better than a few pages on a municipal website. Here are 6 good reasons:

  1. Get found! It is much easier to find your community and site selection information on a dedicated ED website than on sub-pages of a municipal website. Consider:
    1. A URL that says "" or "" versus "MyTown/business/planninganddevelopment/index.php?page=152?.
    2. Search engines are better able to deep index all pages of a dedicated ED website with appropriate page URLs, page titles, page descriptions and meta-information. This means that individual pages of your dedicated ED website will show up in search results where the query is related to page content rather than general economic development. So if a potential investor searches "YourTown available properties", the available properties page of a dedicated ED site will appear at the top of the search results. Pages of local residential real estate brokers are usually the top search results for queries on economic development pages within a municipal website.
  2. Over 90% of site searches begin on the web. Site selectors may tap into a content rich website 7-9 times as they move through the search and due diligence phases of locating a project.
  3. Messaging: Your investment is important to us. A dedicated website says that economic development is important to your community. What message is sent if economic development is buried three levels down in a municipal website, compared to your competitor's dedicated ED website?
  4. Ease of navigation, content organization. In today's world of site selection, it is really an exercise in site elimination, which can occur in seconds by the way! Top site selector frustrations include poorly organized content, and navigation that is not simple, quick and intuitive. These objectives are extremely difficult to achieve when ED content is part of a much larger website, over which you have little control.
  5. Flexibility and control of content, branding, and updates. When a clerk can't access the local network, and you want to provide an important property availability update on your portion of the municipal website, who will get the priority from the always over-worked IT staff? A dedicated ED website gives you control over content, when and how often it gets updated, and the branding to complement your marketing plan. A dedicated ED website encourages you to prepare appropriate content that is properly organized, more than a simple municipal economic development web page does.
  6. Integration of social media. Social media, an integral part of your marketing strategy, should be driving people to your ED website, and not be hampered by the corporate IT rules and regulations.
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The Real Truth about Municipal Cultural Planning

This is the first blog for what will be regular blogs on Cultural Planning, Creative Cities and Economic Development - including Cultural and Culinary Tourism, the Local Food Revolution, and the CRINK Economy (Creative, Innovative, Knowledge-based).

I've been working on projects with Eric and his great team at McSweeney & Associates for a while now, and we share a very similar philosophy - that strong, prosperous communities are at the core of culturally advanced communities that offer a high quality of life. So a Municipal Cultural Plan has to understand and help lead the economic development and prosperity agenda for that municipality.

This is something that some consultants don't seem to get. Cultural Planning isn't about trying to build new arts edifices or promote some exclusive agenda - it is about a holistic approach to the community's needs, recognizing the strength of building and re-building neighbourhooods, advancing an agenda of change and progress, and ensuring that culture - in the broadest definition - becomes one of the four pillars of sustainability for Canadian towns and cities.

The process must also be driven from the ground up, not imposed from the top down. In other words, a broad, open and positive community engagement process must take place, and it must be an honest and responsive process.

The end result will be a solidly-grounded, community-based vision and plan that can aid the municipal council in its strategic, economic and community efforts. It's an exciting opportunity for towns and cities, and we'll explore some of the unique benefits, procedures and things to watch out for in this blog in the months ahead.


GORD HUME.   Author of "Cultural Planning for Creative Communities" and other books.    or email

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