Diversification - A Journey, not a Destination

Low oil and gas prices have many communities focusing on diversification as a way of stabilizing their local economy. Some Economic Development Officers see diversification as a radical change, maybe a complete retooling or re-build of what they have.

I recently stumbled across a document outlining the progress of agriculture and food production in the High River – Okotoks area, where I now live. It is evident our forefathers looked for diversification opportunities much like us, as illustrated by the following:

Before 1879 families depended upon grazing animals but that year John Glenn broke about 4 acres to grow oats and barley that he harvested by hand. By 1882 Mr. Glenn moved to Fish Creek and used irrigation to grow cabbage and other vegetables (new products to the area); he sold over $2000 worth of cabbage alone – a small fortune when land price was $2 per acre.
By 1885, land was fenced and livestock was raised differently - their diets supplemented with grain and produce. Farm products were sold in Calgary (a new market) and businesses expanded with the introduction of equipment and more sophisticated irrigation.
Neighbours expanded their holdings - added more livestock – pigs, sheep and improved breeds of cattle. Risky growing conditions convinced some farmers to process raw products, turning milk into butter and cheese to be sold both locally and outside the region (increasing the production sectors and adding more customers). 
By 1900, a number of farmers had facilities in more than one location (spreading the risk of flood or frost) and crops were being shipped by rail to eastern Canada and Europe (marketing in more markets and jurisdictions).
The experiences of the early settlers demonstrate what the Business Development Bank of Canada has been saying. BDC documented 5 types of business diversification in their study of Alberta SME success: 
  1. more than one product/service line
  2. clients in more than one city/town
  3. not reliant significantly on a single major client 
  4. operate in more than one sector (oil & gas, construction, manufacturing) more markets served (reduces dependence on a single market)
  5. more than one production location (not in the same city/town)
It may mean adding new sectors to your business community, but it doesn’t mean abandoning what you have. As an Economic Developer, you can facilitate growth through diversification by enabling innovation, supporting new market development, recruiting or developing new skilled workers, having land available to support expansion into new products or processes, and having infrastructure – including broadband to serve new markets.
Just like our forefathers, we want a stable, prosperous economy and like them we’ll find it’s not a new destination; it’s a journey with businesses in your community that can diversify and prosper. 

Art Lawson B.Sc, M.Sc, Ec.D is a McSweeney Economic Development Associate Consultant. Based in Alberta, Art began his career in business management and applied those foundational skills in community economic development – initially in business diversification.  Art moved from diversification to pioneering the development and implementation of a number of economic development tools for communities, including BR+E, Downtown Revitalization and Economic Analysis & Planning.  Art has also served as the General Manager of the South Central Ontario Economic Development (SCOR) Corporation (former tobacco region) focused on economic recovery and business diversification.  Communities and sectors were assisted with capacity building, foreign investment attraction and the process of establishing the Region as a Foreign Trade Zone.

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Planning for Resiliency

An effective strategic plan is one of the most important tools that a municipality can use to bring together the public, municipal staff and members of Council in the development of a common vision, direction and goals for a community.  
The plan should also function as an evaluation framework against which decisions by Council and staff can be measured. It also enables management and the public to evaluate municipal progress towards the right objective – and that objective should be resiliency and sustainability.   
Resiliency looks different in every community as each municipality has its own economic base and locational risks.  There are internal risks like inadequate business succession planning and external risks like changes in commodity prices or Canadian currency, or emerging disruptive technologies.  More catastrophic risks can include flooding, fire, earthquakes, and terrorism threats.  All these risks and more need to be factored into your strategic planning.  
There is no silver bullet to creating resilience – it is different in every community, and it must be planned for in every case.  Resiliency, economic vibrancy and sustainability don’t just happen without leadership and a plan.  But the plan in itself is not enough.  Staff, local business leaders and provincial staff should have input and be trained on implementation (with regular refreshing).  As they say, the proof is in the pudding – and while one can never predict the future, planning will at least allow you to know which ingredients you need to have on hand!  
Next we look at a Community Case Study in Resiliency
Shawna Lawson (Stonehouse) BComm (UofA), MSc (Planning), EcD is a McSweeney Economic Development Associate Consultant. Shawna began her career in Red Deer and brings over 25 years of economic and business development experience in Alberta, Ontario and overseas (UK and Southeast Asia). She has a proven track record of bringing public and private sector interests together for successful results and project management of complex projects involving several, often conflicting, stakeholders. Over the past few years, Shawna has worked with several struggling communities to diversify their economy and develop their downtowns and image, all while building their internal capacity to carry on development on their own – using tools such as BR+E, Downtown Revitalization, Investment Attraction and data-based strategic planning.  
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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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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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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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