Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Easing the sibling rivalry among the regions

Eleven metropolitan areas team up to encourage foreign investors to consider Canada as a whole

By Marke Andrews, Vancouver Sun
September 27, 2010

Economic development regions are used to competing with one another for business, so the formation of Consider Canada, which unites 11 economic regions in a joint effort to bring trade to the country, marks a change in direction.

The new Consider Canada brand comes out of meetings in Quebec City this week where economic-development executives from 11 major Canadian cities and regions -- who refer to themselves as the C-11 -- discussed how to attract economic activity to Canada.

Lee Malleau, CEO and director of business development for the Vancouver Economic Development Commission, said the new organization won't end the competition between Canadian cities and provinces, but it will unite them in presenting Canada as a place where other countries can do business.

"There will still be competition between Canadian cities and some of that is healthy because it keeps us on our toes," said Malleau in a telephone interview. "But we're learning quickly that competition for business and investment is a lot more sophisticated than it ever was, and the focus is less on trying to steal investment from other areas and more on trying to increase bilateral and multilateral trade with other regions around the globe. That allows us to collectively focus on what those opportunities are for Canada as a whole, and try to complement each other with our strengths."

Malleau said that the first task for Consider Canada is to position the country as a business source for regions that may not have considered Canada, and "once they're here, wherever the most logical place for that company to locate is where they will locate."

The C-11 regions are Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Waterloo, Montreal, Quebec City and Halifax.

Members will meet twice a year in person, and more often in teleconferences. They will also meet with Canadian government representatives, as well as with governments from other districts to coordinate efforts.

Some industries, such as the film business, wage fierce competition between regions, with provinces sweetening their tax credits as incentive. The C-11 initiative points to an alternative to inter-province rivalries.

"I already share information," said Malleau. "If I connect with investors in the automotive industry and it doesn't make sense for them to invest in British Columbia but it makes sense to invest in Ontario, I will certainly pass that lead along to my colleagues in Ontario."

Malleau said she will still work to capture investment in the Vancouver region, but if a regional match cannot be made with an outside investor, then the question she and all C-11 members must ask is: "What can we do to make sure they go into another Canadian city?"

One of Consider Canada's priorities will be how to work with the federal Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade to bring business to Canada. In this capacity, the C-11 members would be working less for their regional interests than for the country at large. This could save costs in the long run, so that the 11 regions wouldn't all need to send representatives to, say, a conference in Germany.

"We hope this will lead to a more cohesive approach so that we don't cannibalize investment from other regions in Canada, and we can increase investment as a whole," said Malleau.

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