Keeping Score

Is the GPA EDC winning or losing the economic development game?

The Quaker plant in Peterborough as seen from the Hunter St. bridge (photo: Pat Trudeau)
The Quaker plant in Peterborough as seen from the Hunter St. bridge (photo: Pat Trudeau)

This week, CHEX Newswatch reported that Pepsi-QTG has laid off 35 people who held unionized positions at the local production facility here in Peterborough.

According to the report, the 35 layoffs are just the first of 50 to 75 that the company requires to maintain profitability at the plant.

These 35 are new to the long line of people in the city that find themselves jobless. Most recent employment stats put Peterborough’s jobless rate at over 10%, and this most recent news doesn’t do anything to help that.

The financial impact of losing 35 jobs is a big one. Say that those 35 people make (conservatively) $50,000 annually. That would mean that we just lost $1,750,000 of local buying power within the community. Keep in mind that this number doesn’t take into consideration whether or not these people receive employment insurance benefits. Even still, the loss is considerable.

For me, this news rang a bell in my head. The bell rang again when I heard Peterborough City Councillor Lesley Parnell state in the same Newswatch report that our city is hard at work doing what needs to be done to save jobs and to bring new jobs to the region.

That bell has a giant label on it that reads “Smells Fishy”.

We have people whose job is to drive economic growth in the city. Specifically, we have the Greater Peterborough Area Economic Development Corporation (GPA EDC).

The City and County of Peterborough fund the GPA EDC to the tune of $1.5 million for economic development services. The GPA EDC is a non-profit corporation governed by a board of directors and headed by President and CEO Dan Taylor.

At April 8th’s City Council meeting, Dan Taylor came under fire from Councillor Keith Riel, who questioned the accountability of the GPA EDC. According to local media coverage, Taylor responded by saying that the GPA EDC brought 73 jobs to Peterborough in 2012, and that it’s “unclear” how many jobs it helped sustain in the area.

Now I admit I’m no expert, but 73 jobs doesn’t sound like a lot, especially when you consider the 110 jobs lost at Ventra in January and the 35 now lost at Quaker. At the rate GPA EDC is attracting jobs, we’d need two years to recuperate all those lost jobs — and that would be if we didn’t lose any more in the meanwhile.

Taylor went on to say that the GPA EDC’s upcoming report may not deliver on what council expects. However, never fear — scorecards are near!

Taylor explained to council that the GPA EDC doesn’t know how it’s doing because it doesn’t have any metrics to measure success (I swear I’m not making this up). To address this problem, the corporation has spent the last 18 months developing a scorecard with 15 benchmarks that will clearly measure the GPA EDC’s success.

But that scorecard isn’t ready yet. First, the GPA EDC needs to provide those 15 “deliverables” to council for approval. Once approved, only then will there be a scorecard for the GPA EDC to use to measure how it’s doing.

This will be helpful because a lot of people are asking whether the GPA EDC is doing a good job.

Peterborough's unemployment rate and trend from 1998 to 2013, using seasonally adjusted unemployment rates from Statistics Canada (chart:
Peterborough's unemployment rate and trend from 1998 to 2013, using seasonally adjusted unemployment rates from Statistics Canada (chart:
Dan Taylor used to be the Economic Development Officer for Prince Edward County and, while his time there could be categorized as tumultuous, he was successful.

According to the GPA EDC, his efforts brought a quarter of a billion dollars of investment into the area, mainly in wineries and agriculture. That’s a big investment into that area considering its population.

When Taylor came to the GPA EDC two years ago, the city and county had high hopes for results. The acquisition came on the heels of the 2008 economic collapse and the job laid at Taylor’s feet was monumental. Success would mean winning many small battles, not one big war.

So, to be fair, Taylor was basically handed a shit sandwich and asked to make filet mignon.

However, that doesn’t make up for the seeming lack of accountability in a city that keeps losing jobs.

Peterborough is in a complex state. The city was founded, built, and driven — up until around 10 years ago — by manufacturing and blue collar jobs. In one decade, we went from that to a “creative economy”. That’s Dan Taylor’s calling card: his specialty is his understanding of and ability to market a “creative economy”. That’s what he did in Prince Edward County and it helped him succeed.

No doubt that he may be able to do the same thing here, but we’re trying to move a train that’s been traveling on the same track for a hundred years onto a new track. That certainly can’t be done in two short years. Not to mention that, while the groundwork may be getting done, it’s arguable that the city isn’t doing enough to draw in new business.

Economic development is marketing — bottom line. Your job is to sell a product and that product is your city. In marketing, there’s a lot of “fluff”. Fluff consists of the tag lines, sales pitches, and general rhetoric that you hear when someone tries really hard to sell you something

I’m sure Dan Taylor is working hard, but the citizens of Peterborough don’t want more fluff. They don’t want to see shiny new websites and to be told that Peterborough’s selling point is that we’re a creative economy. They want to see results. And now there are 35 more people standing empty handed, waiting for those results.

Panoramic view of the Quaker plant in Peterborough (photo: Pat Trudeau)
Panoramic view of the Quaker plant in Peterborough (photo: Pat Trudeau)