One of the more personally rewarding outcomes from my investment in this blog, is the number of engaged Londoners, many of whom I have yet to meet, who have kindly contributed their thoughts, ideas and suggestions to this work.
The reason I mention this is because I was particularly intrigued by a recommendation from one such contributor, who challenged me to set aside the usual roster of economic development objectives in favour of a single, bolder, all-encompassing, and inspirational target for our community.
After some thought, I decided to accept the challenge. After all, while London’s economy has finally begun to reap some of the benefits from the now 8-year-old global economic recovery, few would dispute the fact that the city’s economic heartbeat is neither strong nor well-prepared for any sudden downward shift in the global market.
To help ensure that the city’s tenuous economic trajectory continues, I want to capture all of my intended job creation, investment attraction, and brand building aspirations into the following community-wide economic development target, namely:
To attract $5 billion of new investment in London by 2022.
For simplicity going forward, I shall refer to this as ‘5 over 4’, a target designed to track the total amount of private and public sector investment in London over a four-year period. The most obvious independently-verifiable measure would be active and newly approved building permits. However, I would also like us to consider targeting and tracking other external investments such as, venture capital, research grants, and even the quantifiable value of overnight stays.
More importantly, the 5 over 4 target is clear, focused, challenging and achievable. It harnesses all of London’s business development resources and directs them towards a simple growth metric that, if achieved, will surely expand London’s job numbers, asset value, and civic pride.
It is worth noting that the London CMA, based on the number of approved building permits, currently attracts an average of just under $1 billion in new investment annually. As such, this target represents a fairly significant increase (20-percent) over the same four-year forecast.
More importantly, the above target galvanizes all of London economic development resources toward a common purpose and ensures that Londoners will know definitively if its investment in economic development is realizing its intended return.
As detailed in earlier posts, the sector-specific strategies listed represent what I believe to be the best approach to realizing the above target. The roster of new and existing strategies includes:
- Continuing to develop advanced manufacturing clusters in defense, aerospace, materials, building products, and sporting goods.
- Continuing to position London as a premier provincial site for food processing.
- Continuing effective labour matching between employment prospects and employers.
- Exploring the development of free-trade manufacturing and distribution zones.
- Exploring co-payment programs with employers to cover employee retraining when required.
- Exploring Artificial Intelligence opportunities in local manufacturing.
Medicine and Health Care
- Prioritizing medical research in London that best lends itself to impactful innovation and then assembling innovation teams comprised to monetize the opportunity and create jobs.
- Continuing to recruit and retain world-class medical research leaders.
- Collaborating with London’s health care assets to bring innovations to market.
- Amplifying London’s long-standing and continued success in this sector.
- Establishing a tech sector lead and tech-intensive entrepreneurial hub.
- Expanding workforce tech training.
- Improving access to capital markets in North America, Europe and Asia.
- Exploring the prospects of adding a 3rd fully-accredited Poly-technical Institute.
Tourism and Entertainment
- Directing a portion of Western Fair’s gaming contribution towards the advancement of London’s entertainment cluster and venues.
- Exploring a public private partnership with the current operating team to renovate, replace, or rebuild Centennial Hall.
- Continuing to push for the introduction of a nominal room tax to build visitor revenues.
Builders and Business Development Areas
- Actively pursue public-private partnerships to help build its asset and commerce-generating capacity without exhausting the tax base.
- Assisting with the refresh of BDA business plans.
- Expanding the roster of BDAs to include other commerce-intense neighbourhoods and enable them to build their business area.
- Augmenting the mandate and resources of the London Small Business Centre to provide a suite of business development and support services to London’s retail community.
- Providing BDAs with ready access to a team of specialized professional resources – accounting, legal, and planning – when required.
One of my greatest frustrations with London’s existing economic development apparatus is not with the people, but with each organization’s mandate. In my opinion, there is a concerning level of sector duplication, program overlap and entry point confusion. For example, until very recently, there were four organizations, all receiving some level of civic investment and all providing the same roster of support services to new tech entrepreneurs.
I maintain that the City of London currently invests enough money into economic development organizations and initiatives, and that this investment needs only to be directed more effectively to realize its intended return.
To this end, I believe that the City should contractually delineate as a condition of funding:
- Specific sector(s) responsibilities by organization
- Specific quantifiable and independently-verifiable measures per sector
- Specific allocation of resources required to deliver on these measures
I also prefer that these civic-funded organizations continue to reside outside of City Hall so that the operating teams and their respective Boards are free to pursue the sector-specific plans and secure outside investments from other levels of government. However, each organization would still be required to report to Council and the community on an annual basis, so that there is no ambiguity about who is doing what and how the city is doing. This work is simply too important to the future of our city to leave unattended.
As I stated at the opening of this series, London Inc. has an tremendous mix of assets and talent, and a profound willingness to compete and win in the global economy. Our city now needs to commit to this target, focus its efforts and fulfill its promise.