Folks, I can tell you I have never seen such disgruntlement about economic development among key stakeholders. In Nova Scotia, RDAs are being shut down, some are being de-funded by their municipal funders. In New Brunswick more and more cities are taking on their own efforts and bypassing their RDAs – the City of Bathurst is about to fund its own economic development resources.
I have said I don’t have a problem with cities having economic development staff – if they are large enough to afford it – but their efforts should be aligned with their regional development agency. If a major stakeholder/funder has a problem with an RDA, it’s better to work out the issues rather than create more and more duplication and overlap.
At its core, it seems to me that an increasing number of stakeholders in the Maritimes at least – are demanding to see value for their investment in economic development. A municipal Councillor in Nova Scotia told me not that long ago they had put over a million bucks in their RDA (I forget the time frame) and couldn’t see any value in that investment.
I have my views on this subject – running throughout this blog over the months and years – but in the end, there needs to be a visible and quantifiable return on taxpayer dollars invested. That’s the bottom line. I believe if we thought in those terms, we would be forced to get really focused.
Without clear, measurable objectives, it becomes real hard to show value and eventually, some municipal council will vote to defund economic development – or some government will pull the plug on a provincial department – or a federal government will slowly wind down an agency.
It is very hard to close something that people see providing real value.
Many of my colleagues in economic development will tell me that a lot of what they do is hard to quantify, – they are building the community’s brand reputation, or offering training to raise SME skills or helping to get a new piece of infrastructure built – or a dozen other related things. How do we know if those activities are worth while? How do we know if they are adding value? We must find a better way to link effort to real outcomes – investment, jobs, new taxes.
Otherwise, I see a big period of retrenchment in economic development. I talk to fairly well placed people these days who tell me we are spending way too much on economic development, we have way to many agencies and departments doing a lot of the same things. We are spending tens and hundreds of millions of dollars and can hardly show any return on that investment.
The Department of Transportation spends money and we get new or improved roads. The Department of Education spends money and we get education for children. Same for health care, justice – just about every activity of government. For economic development, we need to have an outcome – a tangible deliverable for the money invested. That is investment, jobs and new tax revenue.