A Few Mid-Week Thoughts – Economic Development

  • In full disclosure, I had a conversation with Mr. Blair Gibbs, following it’s submission to the City in early 2021 via zoom. He had found this blog, read it, and was curious on my thoughts on the economic development space and reached out. We had a great conversation during which I shared opinions and he provided some perspective on the work that he and the firm was commissioned to do.
  • I spent a lot of time how to present my thoughts on the City of Windsor Economic Development Strategy. I have broken by thoughts into these non-mutual exclusive categories:
    • Constraints
    • Contents of the Report
    • A Data Talk
    • The Economic Development Landscape
    • The Politics this document.
    • Conclusions

Constraints

  • As someone who has consulted, you do the work you were asked for. I think the report is good given the constraints that it appear to have been commissioned under.
    • From my understanding the report was commissioned to look at economic development in the City of Windsor exclusively. That narrow scope casts a broad impact on who was engaged, what was assessed and how this report was constructed.
  • As a result the constrains this report leaves a lot to be desired in my opinion:
    • Part of the reason why Windsor faces “perception” challenges is because the City of Windsor has actual problems. Homelessness, housing affordability, poverty, opioids, economic inequality, COVID Impacts etc. are all more pronounced in Windsor compared to the rest of the county/region. Some of these challenges are entrenched, and the City in my opinion has not fully explored how they could be tackled, leaving now with a “perception” challenge
      • Engaging these issues and potential solutions to these challenges were beyond the scope of this report and as a result they are only mentioned in passing with pixie dust language recognizing and hoping that these challenges are tackled.
    • Another clear gap is climate change – the City declared a climate emergency. The words “Climate Change” don’t appear in the report. How could climate change negatively impact or create opportunities for our region to diversify the local economy? The green economy is mentioned and certainly is an opportunity, but so was CS Wind!
      • As a part of it’s climate strategy the city is supposed to be adopting a triple bottom line on it’s costing, what are some of the climate impacts of these proposals?
    • In many ways Windsor has been a low cost jurisdiction in the Canada context. Although that may be true for people entering Windsor now from other areas, for many Windsorite, the City and region are no longer cheap as local incomes haven’t kept up with rising housing, food and other prices.
      • Although affordable prices are discussed in the report, they are not linked to local incomes and wages in any discussions that I saw. So the question has to be asked, affordable for who?
      • The GDP data shows that Windsor lags on a per-capita basis other parts of Canada, it is true that localizing some of that wealth is good on an aggregate but it doesn’t necessarily mean that those who are struggling will benefit – creating a more unequal city.
        • Windsor is home to one of the lowest living wage in all of Ontario. From a business perspective that may be a plus, but from a people perspective of just getting by, I would argue it leaves a lot to be desired and explored.
  • There is a piece of talent attraction this isn’t measured in this report, where will people live? Windsor could attract 1,000 high paying tech jobs, with 1,000 families but if 55-60% of those families live in other parts of Essex County (where region growth rates point) how does that impact the City tax base and infrastructure demands?
    • Income agglomeration is a real thing, the county on a per capita basis is richer than Windsor if we are targeting high paying high tech jobs what is stopping people from settling there?
    • I have also written extensively (here, here and touched on here) how the developed areas of County are actual more dense and better positioned to offer key amenities for families than Windsor. Windsor CMA has one of the lowest commute times in Canada so the time cost for not living in Windsor are negligible.
      • You only need to look at LaSalle, Amherstburg, and Lakeshore’s waterfront plans to see they are creating competitive destinations for their communities.
  • The TLDR for the rest of this post, more research IMO is needed. This report is a step in the right direction but more work has to be done. To jump to action now risks missing something, when key parts of our community were left out of the assessment, secondary impacts were considers and alternative pathways maybe available.
    • Pg 53 of the report (56 of the PDF) offer a number of words of caution that I think should be carefully considered.

Contents of the Report

  • The L.I.F.T. principles are sound and in some cases have been foundational in the economic development space in our region for a long time. I think the real advantage of this report is that it consolidates policies, strategies and examples (for better or worse) into a single document.
    • Many of the policy suggestions outlined in the report have been floated in some form since I have been in Windsor in 2010, whether on social media, by politicos, candidates or elected officials or in the media for at various points in time. There are good ideas in this report, the questions become how do we operationalize them and where Provincial or Federal partnership is needed how do we mobilize those efforts.
  • The Windsor-Detroit Agglomeration framing is a very interesting piece of research. Where I get hung up is the border. As we have witnessed over the last several years, although apart of a broader agglomeration from an economic standpoint, access to the other part isn’t guaranteed or free. Even if the border is as seamless as possible it will remain a psychological, physical, and financial barrier.
    • Fundamentally Windsor is a suburb of Detroit, with “The D” being the anchor. Unlike the Ruhr in Germany where cities like Dortmond, Essen, Dusseldorf and others are in the same state, there is no international border that complicates their region. Does Detroit think of Windsor or are we just “over there”?
  • The linkages between Windsor and Detroit are clear and could be deepened in due course. Those linkages are not unique the entire Canadian economy is highly dependent on the US. To call for deeper integration with the US is nothing new, but it carries it’s own challenges.
    • The chart below shows GDP Growth (Booms and Recessions) since the 1970s from a recent Ontario 360 report.
  • Despite a fascination with the feelings of investors from Copenhagen or Cairo, one of the items that I struggle with are comparator cities. I understand the idea and impetuous of comparing to other rust belt communities. It may very well have been a required element of this work but space, time and context matter in comparative purposes.
    • The governance of any European city are clouded by the meta government (and funding) that is available within the EU. Economically depressed region are recipients of significant targeted investments from the EU. Windsor would likely qualify for these benefits if we were in the EU.
    • Home rule in the US give’s municipalities much wider array’s of powers, while fewer state funded services and deep seeded racial and economic inequality create barriers for economic revitalization.
      • Party partisanship at a municipal level in many cities also shape the political and ideological approaches to tackling challenges in specific communities.
      • Philanthropy with billionaire rebuilding cities also plays a big role in some US rebounds as mentioned in the report, this is far less common in Canada.
    • The United Kingdom, is smaller than the state of Michigan (242,000km2 vs 250,000km2) yet is home to almost 30 million more people than in Canada. So even if the community size and general economic characteristics is similar to Windsor, the proximities and densities to another major urban hub makes the movement of people and good much easier and efficient.
A 2 hour drive time (Windsor Ontario to London Ontario) in the UK
  • Now the comparisons can certainly offer inspirational perspective or specific policy ideas (where applicable) but to leverage their stories as a path forward is a bit to far for me.
    • Would we have better served looking at Canadian examples of urban revitalization and redevelopment? Small Cities and regions where they may not be much better off then we are but they have ideas and approaches that we can steal while sharing the same legal, structural, economic and cultural frameworks?
    • I recognize that KW, London and Niagara are highlighted as Canadian examples and there is certainly things to learn from those communities. I would rather see more Canadian examples than a revitalization story of a community that dates back to the “industrial revolution”..
      • What is going on in Oshawa? GM is going big on electric vehicle production, maybe a deep dive on their manufacturing cluster is required to see what it will take to make us the centre for battery production.
      • Look at immigration patterns to Canada to see how we can attract high skilled newcomers with technology skills? Given international students are commuting to the GTA for work, there could be challenges facing those populations is recruiting high-end international tech talent the best option?
  • Although I won’t go through all of the recommendations, there are many good ones, a particularly ironic one in my eyes is the creation of an Accelerator (Recommendation 25) when the local Downtown Windsor Accelerator went before Council in 2015 asking for $90,000 of support.
    • It was rejected in favour of 0% tax increase, with I recall a 6-5 vote with the Mayor, Councillor Gignac and Francis voting against. Councillor Borrelli in typical fashion asked the Accelerator if they had borrowed money form their parents yet?
Minutes of 2016 Budget Deliberations

A Data Talk

  • One challenge that I do have with this report is it’s use of data. At various points without clear citation it seems that the report utilizes Windsor CMA data and says that it is “Windsor”.
  • This one is a pet peeves of mine, I have said many times on this site, the Windsor CMA and City of Windsor are not the same. To conflate Windsor, Lasalle, Lakeshore, Tecumseh and Amherstburg as “Windsor” is factually false. I am first to sympathize with data challenges for Windsor as I live, breath and rage against them. But I know that some of this data is available although maybe not free in the public realm.
    • On page 23 of the report (26 of the City of Windsor PDF) the report cites the Crime Severity Index linked around Windsor’s relatively safety for it’s size. This is sourced through the citation to this geographic definition – Windsor Ontario [35559] which is the code for the Windsor CMA. The crime statistics that they are utilizing are regional, not City of Windsor or the Windsor Police Services (no requests for data from WPS are listed in the report) as the CMA include Lasalle, Lakeshore, Tecumseh and Amherstburg (served by Windsor Police) these numbers aren’t representative of the City but rather an aggregate of the 5 communities.
      • A better ranking may be the Macleans’ ranking which break out the crime severity index by specific community sourced through data requests and FOIs from various police services, along with other indicators. It finds the City of Windsor ranked 198th of 238th while Lasalle was number 1 in Canada, Amherstburg was 13th, Lakeshore 12th and Tecumseh 57th. It averages to about the middle of the pack ranking if you group them together.
The City of Windsor in the 2016 Census has 101K ppl in the Labour Force, 92k employed. These numbers do not represent that.
  • The Employment Data on pg 28 (above) seems to be CMA, and due to the index construction I have questions about the population and GDP data on pages 25 and 27 as I get similar charts when looking at WEEDC data for the Windsor CMA but I can’t quite match them (possibly different inflation numbers).
  • The consequence of this regional data usage is that we don’t actually know how the City of Windsor is doing. Now I know some of the comparisons also compare to other “regional” communities which is fair but it also hides some of the challenges faced by the City of Windsor by lumping in the other municipalities. If this is a report on the City of Windsor’s economic development strategy shouldn’t it be ground in data on the City of Windsor?
    • The county’s higher employment rates, lower poverty rates, higher incomes balance out a weakness in the City in the data possibly hiding elements of the analysis.
  • The polling/survey data is certainly interesting although not surprising.
    • I would have liked to see some polling from Detroit, I think that was a miss. If we need to align our community more closely to Detroit, understanding our standing from their perspective matters a lot!
      • How many Americans want to cross the border to work in Canada? Does Detroit’s Mayor and Council want to work with Windsor? What political opportunities are there for them by working with us? Is there any interest in a joint Board of Trade? Do Detroiters want passports to come to Canada and visit?
    • Another nit pick, I wish they put actual percentages on some of the graphs and images.
Pg 45 of report – Visualization leaves me guestimating actual values of positive responses (1+2) same for negative (4+5)
  • The data complied here (a link from the report) with the rankings of communities etc. are certainly interesting with the comparative caveats in mind.
  • The qualitative scenarios are also valuable pieces of information for our community. I guess the question to be asked is what is more likely, the positive or conservative model?

Economic Development Landscape

  • The economic development landscape in Windsor-Essex is changing, this report points to that. The proliferation of EDOs to the county and now this Mayor’s led strategy for Windsor could be a sign of a fragmentation of economic development efforts.
    • The Town of Lakeshore just approved their updated strategic plan (or will soon) which should be elevated to the County of Essex soon (if not already). The plan outline vast new employment lands by the 401 at Manning and at Comber.
      • The employment lands fit the exact description of the type of lands needed to kickstart a logistics cluster that was outlined in the CBI report that was released last week.
        • Frankly Windsor doesn’t have roll on/off access to the 401 that isn’t already developed and landlocked. Maybe we don’t want that?
    • Even WEEDC purchase of Ford Data just for Windsor (from my understanding) and not including the rest of Essex County is interesting for a regional organization.
  • This report risks initiating a race to the bottom with other municipalities.
Windsor First!
  • The City of Windsor had an Economic Development Officer. That position was rolled into WEEDC as a part of cost cutting at City Hall. Are we bringing that position back as part of the rapid response unit in the City? [Correction/ Amendment] There is Senior Economic Development officer with the City, I wasn’t aware of this. A former staff member did move from the City to WEEDC who was an Economic Development Officer. I recall some discussion in the community at the time that this was consolidating of activities and that the position that was vacated as a cost savings. A Senior Economic Development Officer position was then funded and annualized in the 2019 City budget instead of the junior position, the “Economic Development Officer” position currently has no FTE assigned to it or funding. So to the Senior EDO at the City, sorry for not realizing you were working away at the City. I now see you, Good Job! The question I pose above does still apply, are we expanding the City office for this rapid response unit?
    • There is also duplication in some of the policy recommendations. The recommended venture fund (for example) could compete with an established Angel network and numerous business granting programs through the eco-system and in many cases supported by Libro Credit Union (county organization with limited City footprint) and RBC. Is this a good use of resources and if the City is going to invest, based on what metrics?
  • The local Small Business Centre doesn’t get mentioned in this report. Although SBCs in London and Waterloo are cited as cases, the fact that our local office isn’t cited is a miss. Yes it is a “division of WEEDC” but IBLS was highlighted. The SBC is provincially funded, it leverages additional provincial and federal dollars, but is not in this report. It has arguably driven more tangible job creation than some of the groups and agencies that are mentioned from our region. That omission could be viewed a few different ways.
SBC Impacts not included in the report
  • The missing piece (due to the constraints to this report) is how does it create wealth and inclusive growth for our region. Community economic development was largely ignored in my opinion in this report.
    • Attracting businesses and statistical aggregates look good on paper they are little more than trickle down economics. How do we lift up those who are most vulnerable in our community to ensure that all people have an equal chance at opportunity? This is a somewhat philosophical debate but one that isn’t really occurring…

The Politics of the Document

  • Let’s me clear, this is a political document and should be read as such. It was created at the request of the Mayor’s office.
    • Did it tell us things that were that much different than the WFWE report on Attracting and Retaining Talent in Windsor Essex?
    • Yes it did come in under budget, but what did it tell us? The fact that this report appeared to be sole sourced and not put out for tender (that I saw or was aware of) is also interesting. I don’t believe that the report has a particular political bias but for a community that values the “market” we seem to be selective in our usage of it.
  • I feel that this document and the policy recommendations within it are a backdoor attempt to create a “Strong Mayor” in a Canadian council context.
    • A lot of concentration of decision making in the Mayor’s office. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but then creates a hyperpolitical economic development space where political fortunes are tied to landing new business.
      • Are we looking for jobs at any cost?
  • I am curious how the County feels about this report? Is this going to divert WEEDC focus from regional goals? Is the County good with going all in on Detroit?
  • This report also has a relatively short list of those who were consulted, almost all of whom were in the economic development space or sectors directly tertiary to that sector (University/College). Those groups all have a vested interest in this report as there will likely be winners and losers from a funding standpoint.
    • If this report doesn’t lead to some sort of system change, then why do it?
  • Upper tier of governments are vital. Whether hospitals, battery assembly, special economic zones or more infrastructure the province and/or feds need to be on board. A “seat at the table” might matter but maintaining a relationship that is constructive and non-partisan through governments will also be required. Unless the City is going to fund it, many of the ventures are driven through provincial funded organizations (University, Colleges and health care) will the City put money where it’s mouth is or just be an advocate
    • If you are going to fund the University and College where is the city targeted funding for poverty reduction or homelessness? The University of Windsor has $117 Million in their endowment maybe they can prioritize some of these activities and pay?
  • One thing I would like to see, are Councillors actually talking about thoughts and positions on this report prior to Feb 8th. A day time council meeting is not must see TV.
    • I recognize that they were consulted during the drafting but this document will likely shape this year’s budget, next years budget, the next election campaign that will follow. A narrative that this is “vital for Windsor’s future” will be driven. If this strategy is the focus of political capital and objectives of the rest of this term.
      • Is the City willing to raise taxes to implement some of these ideas or will other services get squeezed? Will the lifestyle amenities get prioritized over the bread and butter operations of the municipality?

Conclusion

  • I think this document is one that adds value to key conversations but only if utilized in connection with an actual strategic vision for our community and broader community buy in occurs. I think the consultants did a good jobs (setting aside the data issues) and despite the constraints they operated under. Unfortunately in my opinion, those constraints prevented a truly holistic look at economic development for the City of Windsor.
    • This document alone does not provide nearly enough guidance and structure to move forward. Obviously Council will make a decision on actioning and next steps (possibly in the upcoming budget) but even then, the policy actions arguably need to fleshed out.
      • Who does that actioning and under what structure will be interesting to see.
    • Metrics are also missing, how may jobs are we hoping to create? How many tech companies are we going to attract?
      • This is a political document, so council needs to hold itself to account. If this is the path forward, how do we know we are successfully walking it and at what costs?
    • What can I say Feb 8th will be interesting.
You made it to the end! Good job human!

3 thoughts on “A Few Mid-Week Thoughts – Economic Development

  1. Pingback: Weeknote 5, 2021 – The city is here for you to use

  2. Pingback: A Few Thoughts on Week 47 | gingerpolitics

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