Economic Development 101: You can’t do it by yourself

This is the third in a series of articles about the fundamental principles behind the work of economic development in the Greater Regina Area.

By Bruce Johnstone

It takes two to tango, as they say, and economic development is no exception to the rule.

“No one individual or organization is responsible for economic development,” says EDR President and CEO John Lee. “We’re all in the economic development business.’’

That wasn’t always the case. For example, EDR started out as a small department of city hall, with one person, the economic development officer, charged with the herculean task of finding and capturing economic development opportunities for the city.

The economic development officer attended tradeshows and missions, travelling inside and outside the province to promote the city as a place to start or relocate a business. The economic development officer would make cold calls, follow up leads and track down potential business investors.

It was a busy job, a tough job and perhaps an impossible one. Gradually, the decision-makers at city hall began to see that economic development was too big a job for one individual, one department of city hall or even city hall itself.  

So over the years, the one-person economic development office approach to growing the economy morphed into “a collaborative and supportive system” in which many organizations and agencies, public and private, play a role, according to Lee.

In fact, EDR’s predecessor, Regina Regional Opportunities Commission (RROC), was formed from the merger of Tourism Regina and the Regina Regional Economic Development Authority in 2009. The merger brought together two key players in the Regina economy -- tourism and economic development -- under one roof.

More importantly, the newly formed agency would operate at arm’s length from the City of Regina, form partnerships with public and private sector partners and receive funding from other levels of government.

“That’s the only way we can get a lot of our work done is through collaboration and partnerships,’’ Lee said following the official launch of EDR in January 2016. 

In addition to its funding from government, EDR would be actively seeking financial support from local businesses to help fund the organization’s operations. “Over the next year, we’re looking at getting some significant investments from the business community,’’ Lee said at the time.

That initiative would become the Investment Partnership Program, in which 10 organizations and businesses, plus the City of Regina, agreed to commit $75,000 each over three years to support EDR’s long-term growth strategy.

The Investment Partnership Program, which was officially launched in October 2017, raised more than $750,000 from the founding partners, including AGT food and Ingredients, Mosaic Company, Harvard Developments, Greystone Managed Investments, ISC, University of Regina, Blueplate Capital, Regina & Region Home Builders’ Association, Praxis Consulting and Phoenix Group,

The long-term goal of the Investment Partnership Program is to raise $1.5 million. The second round of investment in the program is well underway with several new partners signing on, including the Association of Regina Realtors, Ascent Management Group, Fries Tallman Lumber, and MLT Aikins among others.

In effect, the purpose of the IP program is to get “buy-in’’ from stakeholders for EDR initiatives, like the Regina Advantage Initiative, a strategic marketing campaign targeted at businesses and organizations inside and outside the province.  The Regina Advantage is aimed at telling potential investors, employers and employees about the many advantages of living, working and investing in Regina.

While EDR is the catalyst, the active ingredient that brings the partners together, sets the course and drives the process, EDR’s partners work together to grow the population and economy of Regina and region.

Besides the aforementioned Investment Partners, EDR works closely with other agencies and organizations that are supportive of growing the local economy, such as the Regina Hotel Association, Saskatchewan Manufacturing Council, Regina Airport Authority, Regina & District Chamber of Commerce, to name a few.

“Economic development is a collaborative and supportive system (designed) to reach our full potential,’’ says EDR’s Lee.

 “It’s not just one agency or organization. We all have a role in economic development.’’

A good example of this partnership approach in action was the recent Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences held in Regina, May 26-June 1, 2018.

University of Regina president Vianne Timmons said the support of the city and the province was critical for the U of R to successfully bid and host the 87th annual Congress. 

She noted that the U of R beat the University of British Columbia in its bid for the 2018 Congress, which is Canada's largest gathering of academics.

"We defied the odds by beating out UBC and we did that for one reason only, because of this community," Timmons told the Regina & District Chamber of Commerce in her annual State of the University address.

"This community support put us over the top and gave us a competitive advantage that we needed."

Specifically, Timmons praised EDR staff for helping the “underdog’’ U of R win the bid to host the Congress against bigger, better financed universities. 

“I know all the good work Economic Development Regina does,’’ Timmons said in an earlier interview for EDR’s online newsletter, Think Big Regina!

“They were instrumental in helping us secure the bid for the Congress, so we worked very closely together on it.’’

Timmons said the city’s investment in bringing the conference to Regina more than paid for itself.  More than 5,000 scholars attended the conference, making it the largest in the city’s history and pumping an estimated $8 million into the local economy.

"Every dollar you invest in the university generates multiple dollars for our community," Timmons said.

Sometimes EDR plays more of a behind-the-scenes and organizational role, such as in the recent selection of Protein Industries Canada as one of five national “superclusters,’’ under the Federal Innovation Superclusters Initiative.

More on that in the next instalment of Economic Development 101.