Featured Contributor: Clark Hoskin
Editor / September 26, 2013
Here at EconomicDevelopment.org, we have a number of talented contributors who share their thoughts and expertise on topics related to economic development. To help the rest of the community get to know our contributors better, we’ve decided to launch a series of “Featured Contributor” interviews. For the very first edition I chatted with Clark Hoskin. If you aren’t familiar with him, I recommend checking out his posts, including his most recent one on getting Mumford & Sons to come to Norfolk County during their Gentlemen of the Road tour.
About 20 years ago, the Region of Haldimand-Norfolk took me on as Economic Development / Tourism Assistant, followed by employment at Cambridge Tourism and later, the Southern Ontario Tourism Organization. In 2002, the newly restructured Norfolk County was looking for someone to build a tourism and economic development office from the ground up, so I jumped at the chance. I’m still here.
What has surprised you most about working in economic development?
It might sound odd, but I have been surprised at how generous, helpful and supportive economic development and tourism professionals from diverse communities are to one another. Perhaps I thought it would be more competitive or cutthroat. But when your community faces a challenge and you hear of another community in the same boat, you can usually pick up the phone or drop a line to your fellow EDO and they will take time to help. I think it’s a rural / small-town / northern climate thing. I feel proud about our industry and our profession knowing there is an unspoken collegial bond among us all.
What do you find most challenging about economic development? And most rewarding?
The people … and the people. I have the pleasure of meeting and working with many interesting individuals, entrepreneurs, ambassadors, community activists, leaders, visionaries and other honourable characters. These people are always inspirational and motivational. Human nature works the opposite way too, and our team’s efforts are periodically challenged by naysayers. The rewards come from knowing in your heart that you have worked hard to make a positive, tangible impact in your community, whether you have received personal recognition or not.
Can you tell us about some recent economic development successes in your community?
Our businesses and farmers are very innovative and progressive, winning many provincial and national awards and honours. Several wineries and microbreweries have opened. Many food production and processing enterprises are thriving and growing. Our auto parts plant has expanded twice and announced more jobs. Our tourism economy is maturing, with the opening of sustainable tourism businesses that are financially viable. A new professional office and courthouse is being built on a brownfield that sat idle for 30 years. Norfolk County is the understated success story of Ontario. Just ask Mumford & Sons.
Tell me about someone who has influenced your work in economic development?
People in my community influence me and keep me motivated. One of my mentors in a previous job taught me to respect the unique challenges of businesses while warning me not to kowtow to them. A local philanthropist constantly reminds me there are many citizens with unconditional pride in their community, and that more can be achieved if we engage them. A farmer reminded me to focus on solutions for our community of clients, rather than trying to satisfy or anticipate the needs of politicians. The tenacity and commitment of our own staff influences me to work hard every day. When I witness firsthand fellow colleagues developing creative solutions to solve problems, it is incredibly motivating for me. If the people around you don’t have influence on your actions, then you have lost touch with the foundation of community economic development: positive change is made through recognizing our strengths and applying our intuition.
What would you tell someone who is thinking about getting into the field?
If your dream is to make your community a better place, then working in economic development is a super way to accomplish your goal. Make sure that your community is as enthusiastic as you are. There are many great communities to work for, so if you have the drive and enthusiasm, then you will eventually find a community that matches your goal. If you’re in a community that is not supportive of economic development, move to one that is. Life is too short to push rope uphill.
As a practitioner, what sorts of trends do you see right now?
Economicdevelopment.org is the best source for information on macroeconomic trends. Let’s talk about the day-to-day. Everyone is talking about reducing regulatory controls on development. Red tape has never been a dirtier word. The development community has embraced technology (having Googled “how to fast-track a zoning amendment”) and wants quicker approvals. It is easy for a developer to seek intervention from elected officials by writing nasty emails or yelling down the phone line. Pressure is coming from lots of directions. Economic development officers love to see less officious attitudes from regulatory colleagues, so the trend is positive in that regard. However, this cavalier attitude is also affecting other processes, such as the development of a marketing plan or prioritizing targets for investment attraction. Sometimes decisions need time to be made properly, so it is a challenge for all of us to remind our political masters and the business community that haste makes waste.
What do you think will change about economic development over the next five to ten years?
Over the past five to ten years, economic development in our community has been affected dramatically by industry moving off-shore, increasing food imports, uncertain economic conditions in the U.S., and by weird weather. Those factors will intensify, creating more challenges. I remain hopeful that there will be change in the way our municipal councils deal with economic development, at least in rural Ontario, over the next decade. Younger leaders will step up and demand focus and clear deliverables in economic development, which will be easier to resource. Some local institutions will disintegrate as volunteers evaporate with the aging population. Change in service delivery locally will favour programs that are relevant, effective and economically sustainable. There will be intense pressure to regionalize, but I am hopeful the Province will see the benefit in trusting the wisdom of local decision makers. I remain hopeful that intercity transportation will be a higher priority within the next decade, so rural areas are not left behind if energy prices skyrocket.
What do you do when you aren’t working?
I enjoy spending time with family and friends: simple things like going to the beach, watching movies, hiking, or cooking a meal. Getaways to refresh the brain – preferably diving a coral reef – are lots of fun, too.