Municipal government as a catalyst for economic development

What follows are some rough notes and preliminary thoughts relating to economic development initiatives for the RM of Springfield.  These will likely be amended as I devote more mental energy to the exercise.  In the meantime, I welcome any and all comments.

As one of the closest levels of government to 'on the ground' economic activity, local (or municipal) governments have almost always had some interest in ensuring they are involved, one way or another, in economic development.  A healthy (and growing) tax base "primes the pump" for a strong local economy, which in turn facilitates construction of amenities and services that residents want.

While Provincial and Federal governments more or less (attempt to) set the terms and parameters of the wider economic climate, much of the nuts and bolts of those activities are framed ultimately by local, high-quality regulations and legislation, including formal Development Plans.

The RM of Springfield, like any municipality, has a vested interest in creating the most appealing competitive environment possible.  A common question heard during election time is what, if anything, a municipal government such as the RM of Springfield can do to ensure economic development is maximised.

Here are a few examples, some of which could sit alongside, or be implemented within, the current Development Plan for our Municipality, and some of which may already be in place to varying degrees:

ONGOING INITIATIVES

  1. Engagement and consultation.  This is perhaps one of the more important initiatives that a municipality can undertake, and it is often the one that achieves the best 'bang for buck'.  The purpose of this initiative is ensure there is bi-directional engagement between an RM and the business community with the shared intent of creating optimal conditions for businesses to operate.  Local governments need to ensure they are actively and consistently involved in the business community and understand the conditions within which their commercial or industrial sectors operate.  The business community will, naturally, expect to have a voice and input into municipal plans, policies and legislation.  Put another way, a council could simply ask itself: what can we be doing to make it easier to be in business in Springfield?
  2. Ensure the RM is positioned to weather any eventual erratic performance of wider economic conditions provincially and nationally.  Further, it should be prepared to give appropriate instructions to Administration on any directional shifts relating to policy and legislation.  A municipality must have an excellent command of provincial, federal and international economic trends, for these have the potential to have significant and lasting impacts on the ability of an RM to champion and support strong economic growth


SHORT-TERM INITIATIVES (within 3-4 years)

  1. Review existing business fee structures.  Are they competitive?  Is there a perception (accurate or otherwise) that they are restrictive?  Do they come with a concomitant level of value in the services provided by the Municipality (as perceived by local businesses)?
  2. Develop a 'buy local' platform/website designed to support and promote local business.  The objective would be to catalogue existing services/suppliers within the Municipality to offer a one-stop portal for B2C (business-to-consumer) and B2B (business-to-business) users.  Further, this could be mated with an existing municipal procurement programme/policy for local goods and services (where feasible and fiscally prudent).
  3. Work closely with the Springfield Chamber of Commerce as an active 'ear-to-the-ground' organisation that facilitates regular and direct engagement with/to the business community.  A vibrant and active Chamber provides another valuable data point for a municipality to learn more about the views of the local business community. This can be invaluable when crafting or revising high-quality policy and legislation.
  4. Explore the possibility of creating a working relationship with Economic Development Winnipeg to align common goals and share best practices for attracting talent and capital.


MEDIUM-TERM INITIATIVES (perhaps 3-5 years)

  1. Notwithstanding the creation of an Economic Development Office in the 2018 Municipal Budget, a slightly longer-term initiative could expand this single-window model and use the office to act as the point-of-contact between the Municipality and the commercial sector.  This office becomes, effectively, both a facilitator and a 'problem solver'.  Their remit would largely be supportive, but would effectively be to establish a direct line between business and the Municipality.  At the same time, this office could craft an outreach programme where regular events/seminars and other communication activities would bring parties together.  Such an office, by the way, may not necessarily require additional or new staff; a reconfiguration at the discretion of Administration may be all that is required. 
  2. Investigate the feasibility of establishing a small, SME-focused municipal support programme (e.g., temporary fee reductions, rates support) to facilitate new start-ups or expansion initiatives.  This could be run as a competitive process, and could be part of a wider strategy to establish (or support, if driven privately) a platform for attracting new start-ups.  Long term, the option of having the RM involved in a business incubator, potentially partnered with existing ones in the city or with a coworking firm, could be explored.  The vision here is to get Springfield 'on the map' for small business when considering location.
  3. Develop a database of business activities for the purpose of monitoring future clusters and 'field configuration’ initiatives.  An initiative such as this could tie in with a larger economic strategy for the Municipality whereby targeted industries or sectors are identified and sought based on natural factor endowments held locally.


(Potential) Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

Recognising that targets for some of the above may not always be recommended in early phases, the following KPIs (which are not an exhaustive list, by any means) could be implemented with a view to crafting them in the future:

  • rate of new business growth (raw numbers, perhaps by sector) and Y-O-Y change in permits, applications, etc.
  • longitudinal shifts and changes to the tax base
  • change, if any, in business churn over several years (longitudinal)
  • inquiries and conversions from expressions of interest for business establishment
  • new job creation (both quantity and quality, where feasibly measured)
  • population changes