Featured Contributor: Andrew Redden
Editor / November 29, 2013
We recently launched a new series here at EconomicDevelopment.org highlighting some of our contributors (you can see the first Featured Contributor post here). These talented folks share their insights as practitioners and experts in the economic development field, so we wanted to give the economic development community a chance to get to know them a little better.
For this edition, I chatted with Andrew Redden, whose post on whether small town economic development is more difficult was one of the top 10 posts of EconomicDevelopment.org’s first year.
Tell me how you first got involved in economic development? How long have you been in the field? Where are you now?
I was back in Campbellford while I was finishing up my masters in rural planning and development at the University of Guelph when I saw an economic development internship advertised by the Trenval Community Futures Development Corporation. It was a great fit since I had been considering a career in planning and had done quite a bit of community and economic development work already while working for an MPP. I ended up getting the internship and had the opportunity to meet a lot of people and roll out the first edition of the Eastern Ontario Development Program (a grant initiative). I then took on the role of main streets coordinator in Madoc, Marmora, Stirling & Tweed and in 2007 became the economic development manager for Hastings County, which is where I am now. I’ve been in the field for more than 10 years. I’ve also been able to get my registered professional planner designation, become a certified economic developer and keep up to date in the planning field because my role falls within the County’s Planning & Development Department.
What has surprised you most about working in economic development?
I appreciate the volunteer spirit and have always been impressed with those willing to drive an hour to a meeting, spend an evening, and give expertise or knowledge to see a community grow. Whether they’re on council, part of the local business community, or retired, people are willing to come out and get involved. Just as much as you need a “bus driver” in the form of an economic development staffer , you also need all those passionate people getting involved and on the bus. That effort makes me wonder if there’s more I could be doing with my volunteer time.
What do you find most challenging about economic development? And most rewarding?
The most challenging thing is a lack of time. There are so many immediate priorities like emails, phone calls, or events, but we also need to focus on long term work like strategies and supporting businesses. Also, elected officials and committees can sometimes see economic development as a clearing house of sorts whereby I could be asked to get involved in duties beyond my role. I also find that I have to often communicate my role and the importance of economic development.
On the rewarding side, it’s nice to see someone who comes to us and wants to invest or start a business and then watch them open and see them live their dream and passion. Some of what we do, like special events or main street beautification efforts, can also be rewarding in a very tangible way. But there’s always the issue of not appreciating how far we’ve come and still feeling the pressures of having to do more.
Can you tell us about some recent economic development successes in your community?
I’m pretty excited about our Enterprise Facilitation Program. As part of the program we have a small business coach who is able to meet and network with anyone who wants to start a business, including newcomers. The coach is able to make “house calls” and meet people outside of the office. The program is based on the enterprise facilitation model designed by Ernesto Sirolli. Since 2009 we’ve assisted more than 250 people. Of those, 100 have opened or expanded their businesses, creating more than 100 jobs. Overall, entrepreneurship is a big part of what we do. There are a lot of people with dreams and ideas in our community, and often they just need a bit of coaching so that they can be successful.
Tell me about someone who has influenced your work in economic development?
A big influence has been my parents. My father was self-employed and was, and continues to be, very active in his community. My mother is an active volunteer and was involved in politics in my home community, both as a councillor and mayor. So I understand on a personal level the challenges entrepreneurs face and what it means to be involved in the community. Those things come together in economic development, which made it easier for me to understand the field.
What would you tell someone who is thinking about getting into the field?
You have to have perseverance. Sometimes a grant application isn’t successful or an entrepreneur with an exciting business proposal takes their plans elsewhere. Keep pushing forward. The reward will come.
You also have to be patient. It can take time to set up and implement initiatives, and then you have to maintain them. This can be difficult with four- year council mandates. I think of it this way: if you want to build a deck in your backyard, you do it or you hire someone to do it. But if you had to ask all your neighbours what kind of deck you should build, it would take time to consult everyone. The same is true of working with the business community and/or councils.
As a practitioner, what sorts of trends do you see right now?
There’s a lot of focus on entrepreneurship at the moment rather than the more traditional focus on attracting factories or site selection. There’s more of a focus on community assets, on what we have and what’s being underutilized.
We have to look at the people starting businesses here, particularly as research indicates more than 50% of baby boomers want to start a second career or business. The creative class and creative workers are also getting a lot of attention.
We’re seeing a move towards the small, niche, or micro businesses. It’s more about quality than quantity right now, and people are getting more interested in buying local.
What do you think will change about economic development over the next five to ten years?
Social media is changing the way we connect with people. Engaging people through social or digital channels will become increasingly important. Promoting place is another example. Communities are starting to catch on to the idea of “place” and the need to promote place rather than land. There’s still a role in promoting and selling serviced land, but entrepreneurs seem to want to know more about the place they’re investing in as opposed to just the industrial land you have.
The aging population and changing demographics will also create changes. We have to focus on immigrants more as entrepreneurs, for example. And a larger retired population will create a boom in services and occupations we haven’t seen before. These will have an impact and can be opportunities for communities.
What do you do when you aren’t working?
I have a young family, so I spend lots of time with them. I also kiteboard as much as I can and play hockey.