Introduction – Economic Development is Like a Farmers’ Market

In my previous blog I outlined my first book which I am currently writing and I drafted a bakers dozen worth of chapters. Below is a teaser from my introduction. Since I am crowd-sourcing feedback, yours is welcome. Please feel free to comment on any or all parts of this blog.

“Because I’m going to kick ass! “, was the answer to the closing job interview question about why they should hire me for the Economic Development Officer job. This was not the most politically correct or intelligent answer to give the Prince Edward County Economic Development Officer hiring committee which included the imposing stoic figure cut by the balding grey haired mayor. But it was true and I did (say it and kick ass). Not surprisingly, I didn’t get the job right away, a more comfortable fit grey haired gentleman that the mayor and perhaps the other committee members felt more at ease with was the first choice. For one reason or another he wasn’t hired and I was next in line so I got the job.

Financially and career wise this was not a step up for me, on the contrary it was backwards in more ways than one. I had convinced my reluctant wife to join me on a journey from the big city to move to the countryside with 3 young kids in tow and be part of the early day wine growing pioneers of Prince Edward County. This job was a way for me to leverage my skills to make a living in a hard scrabble rural economy, realize my Pinot Noir dream and be close to our upstart farm to nurture our heartbreak grape vineyard.

When I first started my economic development work in Prince Edward County it met with a mixed welcome. The council was fractious on the cost and undertaking of economic development and certainly not clear on the direction it should take. Eleven years later not much has changed.

My background is in marketing, the root of marketing is market as in farmers’ market where farmers bring their goods for sale to find customers who want to buy what they have grown. The most successful farmers grow what their customers want, if they don’t the customer goes to the next farmer in the market that does and buys from that farmer instead. You can guess who prospers and who does not.

I brought this fundamental shift in thinking to economic development to my newly adopted community. I was not trying to sell some empty building or piece of land to some nameless imaginary investor just because we had it. I conceived what was unique and appealing about Prince Edward County as a place to invest in, then I packaged and articulated the opportunities and went looking for an investor target audience who was interested in and looking for what we had to offer.

I was like the farmer at the market knowing I had to offer not what I wanted to grow and sell but what the customer wanted to buy. That was the basis of my strategy, common sense if you will and an age old formula for success.  To my surprise my entire journey was a fascinating controversy where common sense battled with some vague undefined version of success that some of council and the community was seeking for this off the beaten path place that in some ways time had forgotten. Economic Development you see is extremely political, highly emotional and ironically seldom about business or reality. It’s a contact sport in more ways than one. Yes you need to make business and investor contacts but economic development is like a rough and tumble hockey game with cheap shots, elbows in the corner and the occasional cross check. On occasion the gloves did come off and there was a fight or two along the way.

When I started the job and the upstart department there was little investor interest or economic development activity occurring in Prince Edward County, it was fairly sleepy. I felt like the Maytag repair man waiting for the phone to ring. If that scenario was going to change I realized that I had to create investment and awareness and demand towards Prince Edward County. I had to match what we had to offer with what potential investors were looking for in a a community like ours. When I left a decade later we had to gear down our investment attraction efforts and focus on servicing the significant investment demand to ensure customer service needs were being met. Metaphorically I felt like the guy on the tarmac with the wand waving planes to land on a very busy runway. This may be a slight exaggeration for effect but the shift from no investor interest to significant and on going incoming investment was that dramatic and no exaggeration.

This book will explore my journey and discovery about how to successfully take an asset rich but appreciation poor community like “Ontario’s Best Kept Secret” to a community that is still undergoing a Rural Renaissance today, is no longer the best kept secret and was reborn as Canada’s “First Creative Rural Economy”. I believe many of the lessons I learned are principles that are highly transferable to other communities across the globe.

This is a teaser introduction, 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.

 

 

 

 

2 Comments

  1. Jamey Coughlin

    Hi Dan, here are some thoughts:

    1. You kind of have two metaphors going in this Intro, ‘kicking ass” and ‘like a farmers’ market’. I would either pick 1, or more closely show how the farmers market approach = kicking ass. As someone who works in the farmers market scene, i wouldn’t necessarily equate the 2. Yes there is definitely kicking ass happening, but also lots of mediocrity, producer focus (vs customer focus), poor presentation, commodification at a small scale and copycatting. Over the long term, the folks who kick ass generally do better. So if you are going to use the farmers market analogy, I would move it to the top and paint a picture of a kicking ass at a farmers market. What do I see as kicking ass? http://www.slideshare.net/jameycoughlin/fmns-killer-market-stall

    2. The book is a mix of personal anecdotes, theory, data, insights and tools. I would try to establish a common structure for each chapter and that way the components all kind of flow together. Something like Anecdote, Deconstruct it, Creative Economy Theory/Data and Tools/Key Questions/Resources for the reader to do themselves. That said, like any good story, it needs a plot, so the stories in each chapter, if stitched together without the other stuff would form a coherent narrative, Chronological? I actually found this book to do a great job of bio/info http://www.youcalltheshotsbook.com/

    oh yeah, don’t forget the drama, a good story needs ups, downs,

    3. Something to think about is is the book primarily auto biographical *(therefore data/theory gives credibility to the experience) or practical (stories provide illustration/entertainment for the theory/data.

    so far an interesting and educational. I am enjoying the read so far

    Jamey

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