I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of spending the past 3 years working for Hastings County as Economic Development Manager. It’s a brand new role and I pretty much started from scratch.
Before heading out to “find new business and create jobs”, I knew that I first needed to acquire a good understanding of Hastings County’s local market and assets and then develop an economic development strategy that clearly reflected the local assets and advantages. It’s one thing to say we need to fill downtown storefronts or that we need to bring in new jobs and business, it’s another to attract sustainable entrepreneurs that will remain in business for years to come, fill a product or service gap and won’t get closed by their head office located someone far away perhaps in another country. I also knew that I had to respect local capacity by recognizing existing organizations in the community that already had a role in local economic development such as our Chambers, BIAs, Community Futures Development Corporations and a small number of member municipalities that invested in having their own separate economic development committee or coordinator.
Through our strategy that was eventually developed for the County and still has a couple of more years to go, I found that we needed to do things differently than our big city counterparts. While my friends in the big cities “searched for factories”, I uncovered that we needed to take what we’re already good at, what we have for sale now, and figure out who might want to buy it. We don’t have a pile of industrial buildings for sale or lease nor do we have expansive serviced industrial land. What we are offering is quality of place. It can be as simple as our mineral assets (Rockhounds and gem collectors) and wellness opportunities, our outdoor natural amenities, our endless recreational trails, our picturesque lakes and rivers, our quaint, historic and rather genuine downtowns, our farm-gates and produce (www.harvesthastings.ca) and our countryside. I also pinpointed that all of this is still close to Toronto & Ottawa and most of our County (and it’s expanding) has access now to high-speed Internet.
Typically, it’s the Long Eagles or independent “creative types” that want to purchase or take advantage of the preceding – what we here in Hastings County have to offer. These are people with transferable skills, driven by ideas and creativity and don’t have to be in the big city to provide their services or products. We are becoming real desirable to this kind of individual, and so we need to maximize our local assets to translate this into economic development.
Additionally, Lone Eagles and the creative types are where the growth is. Take for example Canadian Business Magazine (Vol. 83, issue 2, p. 33) which reported that “Over the five years starting in 2004, Canada lost approximately 540,000 manufacturing jobs, while copyright-related “cultural” jobs totalled more than 1.1 million in 2007.” Further, despite a loss of 480,000 jobs overall between 2008 and 2009, Statistics Canada reported during the same period a gain of more than 100,000 self-employment positions. Self-employment actually rose 8% between 2006 and 2009.
Creative-type jobs are higher paying than others. Here in Hastings County, the share of the overall wages that creative-type jobs account for is 33% and the share of creative-type businesses is 38% (this is excluding the two cities of Belleville and Quinte West). These figures are higher than that of other categories such as traditional agriculture, manufacturing etc.
Want to know more about these creative types? Here’s a presentation that we were part of through the Ontario East Economic Development Commission to assess the broader Creative Economy in Eastern Ontario. Just click play to move the slides along: