To prosper in today’s globally connected economy and compete for investment and talent, cities large and small require a clear road map—one that both builds opportunity and catalyzes community growth.
The City of Prince George, the urban heart of Northern British Columbia with a regional population of nearly 100,000, engaged Resonance to do exactly that.
Prince George sits in the center of Canada’s westernmost province, 500 miles north of cosmopolitan Vancouver and 1,000 miles south of the Alaska border. The city was born at the nexus of two major rivers and became a center of logging, pulp and paper, and supplying know-how to the industry.
Evolution in the region’s timber industry, changes in the regional climate, and economic disruptions in the U.S. and abroad provided new challenges and opportunities: while traditional industries were dwindling, the rest of the province was becoming more expensive, making the region an attractive value. Better connections between Prince George and other key destinations were making the city a competitive option for companies seeking new sites.
It was imperative to create a comprehensive strategy that would guide the city’s future economic development efforts. How should Prince George grow? How should priorities be established?
At Resonance, we believe an economic development strategy is devised by and for the city it serves—part data analysis to determine trends, assets and challenges, and part input from local officials, business executives, non-profit leaders, residents and city staff to enrich analysis with much-needed context.
We shaped a plan that was reflective and inclusive of a diversity of community perspectives. We connected with more than 75 informed business and community stakeholders, and produced a data-driven assessment and forecast that helped us understand the city’s competitive assets and identify its challenges.
We discovered that Prince George hadn’t clearly identified its competitive clusters, and thus lacked an organizing principle for economic development efforts. Together, we worked with the city to identify four main clusters: advanced manufacturing, e-commerce distribution, timber industry innovation, and expertise in natural resource management.
While each city’s challenges and opportunities are different, we’ve learned some foundational lessons over the years about how to successfully shape economic development:
1. Pursue and support a data-driven cluster approach to business expansion and retention
Promotion of clusters helps reinforce existing businesses and it helps capture the interest of outside talent in the community’s unique assets and explains why it’s a good place to stay and grow. To ensure this is achieved, Prince George’s economic development staff will build a team of cluster experts and advocates who can speak to the current opportunities and challenges in the city. The City will also implement a systematic business retention and expansion program. For most communities today, 70% of all jobs created come from local existing businesses.
2. Foster an entrepreneurship ecosystem, especially within the target clusters
There is an appetite in Prince George for developing a local entrepreneurship ecosystem, as current local entrepreneurs told us they could have a greater impact on the community if they were effectively engaged. Prince George will look to support local startups and entrepreneurs by offering management and skills training, removing barriers for expansion—such as the lack of capital—and creating opportunities for networking and mentoring.
3. Align talent development and economic development priorities
A highly skilled workforce is critical for communities of every size. In order to weather the inevitable transition in the local economy, Prince George and its partners will collaborate to ensure skills training, nurturing and pathways to new job opportunities within the city’s target industry clusters for workers whose expertise is being phased out.
4. Position your destination as a “brain gain” community
Prince George will promote a networking and knowledge-sharing environment that appeals to people from all walks of life and helps them connect to one another. Young professionals in Prince George told us they are hungry for a talent initiative that helps them build community and connection to the city.
5. Improve urban offerings and public space
A community’s downtown is the front porch to the city. Significant strides have been made in Prince George’s downtown, but there are still placemaking gaps that must be addressed by continued investments and increased collaboration with the local arts community. With residents forming strong attachments to their local communities today, cities like Prince George must cultivate a distinct identity that caters to its residents, leveraging amenities and characteristics that make them unique. Simply put, quality of place is a must-have, not a nice-to-have.
For any city to succeed in today’s competitive market, community stakeholders and organizations must come together and work towards a common purpose and goals. With a data-driven, community-informed strategy in place, communities can catalyze future growth and investment for generations to come.