Chapter 2 Teaser – Build on Your Strengths

Crowd Sourcing

image credit renjith-krishnan

As part of my crowd sourcing experiment, I’m wondering if this chapter warrants an alternate or more provocative chapter title such as  When R& D = Rob & Duplicate or “What space can we own?”.  What do you think? Do you have a preference or any alternative suggestions? Please read on and let me know your thoughts? Thank-you.

I can’t stress how important it is for an economic development strategy to be based on inherent local community assets. If a community’s economic development foundation is not focused on building on its strengths I believe it is doomed for failure. Conversely, if a community is able to realize what its asset base is and what the market is looking for and is able to marry the two then I believe the potential for a community is unlimited.

R&D = Rob & Duplicate
There is a provocative term that I have learned from the economic development profession, it’s R&D. It’s not the R&D or Research and Development that you might be familiar with, although it is related. R & D stands for Rob and Duplicate. I share this term with a few words of caution. Obviously one needs to be sensitive to direct rip offs and others’ intellectual property and to not directly rob & duplicate. Also of extreme importance is that every community is unique and has  a point of differentiation. For example there is only one Silicon Valley. Many communities have tried to emulate or copy silicon valley by proclaiming to be the next one and all have failed. They have failed because there is only one Silicon Valley. The missing ingredient from the Rob & Duplicate plan from these communities is the notion of adapting and quite frankly being a bit imaginative or creative in their approach. Perhaps the acronym should be “RAD” Rob, Adapt, Duplicate?

I think the R&D lesson to be learned from Silicon Valley is that it is brilliant at being a magnet for the the knowledge and industrial supply chain for the innovative high tech industry. It owns that space and it is nearly impossible for somebody else to own that space. It is my belief that each community to a certain extent can carve out its own space. The question we all have ask ourselves is what space can we own, who can we rob and duplicate from and how do we creatively adapt these finding to fit our community, while still remaining unique?

Agriculture and Tourism. These were the clear strengths of Prince Edward County. Geography is another as is Arts, Culture and Heritage. All of these factors provided an incredible quality of life or quality of place backdrop. As it turns out these would become essential competitive advantages for retaining and attracting the Creative Class but more on that later.

In 2001 there was very little shared data on the local economy and lots of coffee shop talk about the state of Prince Edward County’s economy. What I heard was that Tourism and Agriculture were the two biggest economic drivers and they were about even. As it turned out they were not even. An agricultural study done just prior to my arrival indicated that agriculture farm gate receipts were about $56,000,000

per year and I learned a few years later that tourism into the county was about $25,000,000 per year. These numbers are from the 1999.

Regardless of the difference in their value, these were two obvious pillars of the economy at the time. Part of my start up responsibilities included putting a simple plan and budget together which I did. The plan was tied to what I understood to be the basis of the local strengths of the economy. The plan and budget included two other pillars, the third being Arts, Culture and Heritage and the fourth Commerce and Industry. Commerce and Industry was the “and everything else” category as there was no obvious clustering of business beyond the other 3 pillars. There was not an obvious leveragable supply chain, say like in Silicon Valley. This is rather ironic because we typically think of what would be in a commerce and industry pillar as “economic development” however in Prince Edward County,  that was not the case. I later learned about Prince Edward County’s economic ecosystem, which I believe is not a unique attribute of Prince Edward County’s but likely common among local economies.

Building on Strengths

image credit - Stuart Miles

Tourism and Agriculture was clearly the immediate economic development opportunity for The County. This was during the time of broad discussions on added value agriculture and agri-toruism and the very early days of the local food movement. As mentioned the wine industry had early investors and some momentum. As a result the first few initiatives I focused on were agriculture and tourism related, where possible combing the two. The one issue I struggled with and certainly paid a price for was dealing with commodity agriculture. While I think everybody agreed about it’s importance most of it was tied to either global commodity prices and or commodity boards, therefore quite frankly I didn’t know what value I or others could add to this segment. So my focus was on value add,  primarily free market agriculture. I received much criticism or focusing on the new growing ares of agriculture while “ignoring the commodity and board related areas.

My first three initiatives all robbed and duplicated from others and were creatively adapted to our environment. In the following pages I’m going to outline how I stole a page out of my maple syrup loving days as a child growing up in Quebec, how I blended big city and timeless rural ideas to help Prince Edward County become the darling of regional cuisine in Ontario and developed a “how to” publication to answer the unasked and unanswered questions by wine investors that help catapult Prince Edward County’s wine explosion.

This is my chapter 2 teaser, just a sample of how I expect the chapter to unfold. I’m crowd-sourcing feedback. Think of this as a working draft, there will be better formatting and editing when the finished product is complete . If you have any thoughts along the way on how to enhance the story and care to share them with me I would genuinely appreciate that. I’m going to tweet this with a #CreativeEconomy and see what happens. Thanks for your interest.

Brief Background & Bio
As economic development officer, I pioneered the practice of Creative Rural Economy, Economic Development in Prince Edward County, Ontario for a decade starting in 2001. Now as the President and CEO of the Greater Peterborough Economic Development Commission and the Greater Peterborough Innovation Cluster my role has expanded to include both urban and rural creative economy work. I have a keen interest in the economics of urban-rural interdependency. I also speak regularly to groups, organizations and conferences in order to help them grow their economies. I’ve spoken across Canada in the U.S., Europe and Asia.

Want to Hear More?
I enjoy sharing my knowledge and expertise to help others on developing Creative Economies – Rural, Small Town & Big City too. To book me for speaking engagements, facilitation, workshops and more click here or email here.


  1. Steven Draper

    Hi Dan,

    I completely agree with the message here, look for inspiration, experience and lessons from others – but build your own castle!!!

    In my aviation career I had to study major incidents to minimise the chance of repeating them. What often transpires is that the cause isn’t the headline reason, but the coming together of many low level issues in a particle combination and at a particular time that allows a major event to happen.

    It is called the swiss cheese model, although in effect thats a highly simplified approach, but does form the visual basis. (google for lots of info)

    If you change hazards to opportunities and crashes for success then you have the building blocks for building an enhanced economy, personal profile, career etc.

    The key, as you mention, is not trying to emulate someone else’s blueprint for success. In this model by understanding your layers and learning what influences the size of the holes you have to play with and which ones and how you can nudge those over time to help success fuelling opportunities to line up.

    I’m sure that we can both see examples in PEC where a little gentle nudging has triggered the opening up lines of opportunities and also where threats have been allowed (not by yourself I must add) to play on the vulnerabilities. However this model cannot generally produce a quantifiable prediction and hence is very difficult to use where formalities need one……

    However as an ideas generating process or for gross error checking / risk analysing the more data modelled based approaches it can be an incredible powerful tool.

    Keep up the good work — You need to connect with the folk in Totnes, Devon – You’re both working on the same jigsaw 8^)


  2. Katie McCaskey

    I think the “copycat” mentality is a real danger. Sure, you might take inspiration from other locations but cities need to aggressively market what makes them different — even if they ALSO offer the “stuff everyone wants”, e.g. coffee shops & indie shops.

    • Dan Taylor

      Thanks Katie, I think we are saying the same thing. Most creativity and innovation borrows from others, which is what I’m saying. The key is to modify and adapt what one borrows when applying those ideas to keep the community’s unique personality

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