BLOG #731: A city council committee heard from its new director of corporate investments and partnerships Tuesday in a report that laid out the foundation for an economic strategy. If it sounded very similar to the one we had, but this council shot down, that could be because that 2009 strategy was, and remains, a good one.
Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2012 – London
If, over coffee this morning, you were trying to find a single word that describes the report our newbie director of corporate investments and partnerships tabled Tuesday at a city council committee, it might be this one: Nuanced.
In his 2,804 words, some of which were highlighted in red, Harvey Filger has fed back the best of what he’s heard from a cross-section of London leaders since arriving from Alberta three months ago.
There’s not a lot new here, although some of it is rather compellingly presented – such as the stark and scary fact that the estimated loss of payroll since 2007 in London is about $1,000,000,000.
Now if that number – it’s one billion by the way – doesn’t focus your mind on our need for collective strategic thinking about our economic prospects, perhaps this will. London’s economy is perceived by outsiders as being too branch plant dependent, grossly under-capitalized and with no consistent measurement of its success.
Mind you, it’s not something we haven’t heard before, if only in different words.
What that 2009 strategy was built on – and what Mr. Filger now argues is the way forward for this council – is to be focused, build on the city’s core economic strengths, and create an investment fund that can be leveraged when good opportunities arise.
Mr. Filbert lays out what he describes as four pillars of growing prosperity. They include:
Strategic land acquisition and servicing – “a supply of shovel-ready prime land is integral in being able to attract the type of investment that will address the long-term regional employment situation.” This was part of the 2009 plan too.
A vibrant downtown – “The recently renamed Budweiser Gardens can be used as the gathering point of the ‘Entertainment Live’ concept in vogue in many North American and some European cities.” That was also part of the 2009 plan, and in fact was first suggested in 2004 in the Creative City Task Force report.
Community economic development fund – “To maximize leverage, projects need to be targeted and niches selected.” The 2009 plan not only proposed this but the previous council actually created the fund which has invested so far in projects such as the advanced manufacturing research centre at Western and the downtown campus for Fanshawe. Money are also set aside to help pay for a Highway 401 overpass expansion.
World-class transportation network – “The city needs to be visionary in its transportation outlook.” Suggestions include getting employees to their jobs, shoppers to their outlets and goods made here to their markets, along with better rail and air links. This is new in the specifics but not in general.
At first blush, then, it might be tempting to suggest Mr. Filger take his well-paid backside back to Alberta. But think again. He’s tried – and we should hope it succeeds – to get this council of cowboys back to basics. That they cavalierly pumped lead into that earlier economic strategy moments after their election in 2010 should be forgotten provided they promise to ride straight now.
That, unfortunately, might be an order too tall.
Mr. Filger had barely finished speaking to the Investment and Economic Committee Tuesday when the new sheriff himself was firin’ the comments.
“I thought your job description had three words – find the money,” Mayor Joe said. “Seems to me you want me to find the money through taxes, or service cuts, or debt or asset sales. What are you going to do?”
Mr. Filger, not used to the sly ways of our top gun, seemed momentarily unsure whether he was being put on. After a bit of a stammer for an answer, Mayor Joe asked what he really wanted to know – which, in fact, is about all he ever wants to know about economic strategy – “Where do we find the money?”
That does continue to be the question, although it is not nearly as critical as how it will be spent. In Mr. Filger’s report the need to be strategic about answering the second question has been underlined once again.
The city already has some quite logical and intelligent answers in its 2009 economic strategy which was approved, begun and then hog-tied at the Harmony corral.
It’s been a wasted two years, unhappily, but like in the movies often cowboys (and girls) get a second chance at redemption. It’s time for the Gang of Eight to change hats and horses – and restaurants.