Economic Development News & Insight


The Higher ED Blog: Economic development in the Age of Uncertainty

Brock Dickinson / December 4, 2017

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The Higher ED Blog: Economic development in the Age of Uncertainty



Trump Terminating NAFTA.

A quick look at the past year’s headlines reveals the high levels of angst and uncertainty swirling around Canada’s position in the world of international trade and investment. We’re in an age of economic uncertainty, with technological change and labour force disruption pulling us in one direction, while the international community continues to rewrite the rules on tariffs, trade and traditional partnerships.

For the economic development professional, this uncertainty is challenging. Does Brexit open doors to a new economic relationship with the UK, or is it a chance to “poach” European-facing companies from Britain now that Canada has free trade with the EU? Does CPTPP open huge new Asian markets, or expose our communities to competition from cheap goods from China or cheap labour from Vietnam or the Philippines? And – looming over all of this – what does a potential collapse of NAFTA mean for Canadian businesses, entrepreneurs, and investors?

These are big questions, and the answers (if they exist at all) are complex, nuanced, and elusive. To help economic development professionals better equip themselves for these tough discussions, the University of Waterloo Economic Development Program is organizing a special training seminar to be held in Toronto in February of 2018. The session is scheduled to follow the annual Economic Developers Council of Ontario (EDCO) Conference at the Ontario Investment and Trade Centre in downtown Toronto. The seminar is divided into two days, with Thursday, February 8 focused on understanding the state and impact of NAFTA renegotiations, and Friday, February 9 looking at CETA, CPTPP and other international trade structures and what they mean for Canadian communities. Participants may register for one day, or both (and thereby saving 50% on the second day).

Presenters and panellists for the session will include a “who’s who” of international trade and economic development experts, including:

  • Daniel Kolundzic, Vice President of Nanos Research, and former Political & Economic Relations Officer at the Canadian Consulate in Buffalo
  • Stephen Thompson, Ec.D., CEO of the Sarnia-Lambton Economic Partnership, and Ontario’s former Consul and Senior Economic Officer to the Western U.S.
  • Bill Elliott, Principal & Co-Founder of the Global Trade & Investment Group
  • Arlene White, Business Development Manager for WP Warehousing, and former Executive Director of the Binational Economic and Tourism Alliance

Over the course of the seminar’s two days, they will explore the ins and outs of the changing trade environment, sharing their insider knowledge of current issues and discussions. They’ll also take a step beyond the headlines to reflect on what these issues mean for local economic development, and how communities can best position themselves to survive and thrive in the age of uncertainty.

Economic uncertainty is always difficult to navigate, but often the opportunities are greatest when uncertainty is the highest. Warren Buffet famously advised to invest “when others are fearful” – but he also suggested that “risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing.” February’s seminar is an ideal opportunity to build knowledge, reduce risk, and explore how to act boldly in the age of uncertainty.


About the author

Brock Dickinson is an Assistant Director of the Economic Development Program, and has worked in local economic development for 25 years. He is currently the Entrepreneur in Residence and an Adjunct Professor with the University of Waterloo. He was previously CEO of MDB Insight, Canada’s largest specialist economic development consultancy, where he worked with hundreds of communities across North America. Before this private sector role, Brock headed a number of provincial and municipal economic development agencies in both Ontario and Nova Scotia, and spent six years as a consultant with the United Nations, leading sustainable development projects in 30 countries.

About the series

Higher ED: Insights for the Next Economy is a platform for students, guest speakers, staff and faculty of the University of Waterloo’s professional and graduate economic development programs to share knowledge with the field at large. The series takes works destined for an academic audience and reworks them into a fresh, easy-to-digest blog article.

Established in 1987, the Master of Economic Development and Innovation (MEDI) is one of the only graduate programs in Canada focused exclusively on economic development. Students learn economic development theory and practice, and are exposed to leading edge knowledge, tools, and approaches to address contemporary challenges in cities and communities across Canada and internationally.

The Economic Development Program is a nationally-accredited provider of professional training. It delivers certification programs and seminars that offer a deep understanding of the Canadian context in a convenient block format. Peer learning is combined with informative lectures and practical case studies to provide dynamic instruction that is beneficial for junior and senior-level practitioners.

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