You gotta go, to know: COVID-19 response

You gotta go, to know: COVID-19 response

Try and fail. Try again, but course-correct. Some simple advice shared during Blane Canada’s BR|E COVID-19 Response Network webinar on April 2, 2020.

Blane CanadaSince mid March, the network ( has grown beyond 300 economic development organizations. Formed voluntarily to determine the business and human impact of COVID-19 in communities, business impact surveys were created for local economic developers to gather solid business and worker impact data to inform local leadership’s response to COVID-19.

But even as the surveying continues, economic development professionals cannot wait.

“You have to act,” said Joe Raso, President and CEO of Greater Fargo Moorehead Economic Development (

“You gotta go to know, and just try things and not wait for permission from the governor or the mayor, or anybody else, because people are really looking for organizations that are being leaders and trying things and course correcting.”

Regional business task force

GFMEDC brought together over 40 partners to create a regional business task force, including businesses, non-profits, utilities, government administrators and politicians.

The task force is divided into five sections: on data, communications, business engagement , financial support, and workforce. Teams of people with expertise — not just interest in each of those areas — meet constantly and then as a group every Friday morning.

Joe Raso

“You gotta go to know”: Joe Raso, Greater Fargo Moorehead EDC

“Instead of saying ‘hey wash your hands and distance yourselves’, I think we all already know that,” Raso said. “How can we really be helping our businesses at this  critical juncture who are looking for people who want to lead. So it’s I think partly our role to lead in these kinds of situations.”

Dangers of over-communication

One of the first things Fargo learned was that communicating too much information and over-surveying businesses can be unhelpful.

“We’re all receiving a million emails and texts on things that are happening … but one thing we’ve already learned is that the business community is really not set to deal with all the changes of the programming that are coming out at the federal and state levels.”

Being able to parse the data and find gaps in business needs quickly and effectively is essential.

In the case of Fargo, survey data showed at least half the companies haven’t talked to their lender, which can become a problem. Understanding that reality and brainstorming solutions can help address the issue.

Leadership is essential

Unfortunately, economic development professionals can be pulled away from their regular duties into emergency response initiatives. It makes sense, since these professionals are great communicators and problem-solvers.

But now is the time for economic development and tourism officials to harness the expertise of their businesses and other agencies to execute a plan to address the impact of COVID-19 on your local economy.

(By the way, Blane Canada is looking for a Canadian organization to help populate business impact data. Contact them for more info.)


The town with a women’s rights museum

The town with a women’s rights museum

Seneca Falls, New York, came to my attention as an avid fan of the film, It’s A Wonderful Life. There are many similarities between the fictional Bedford Falls of the movie and this lovely Finger Lakes town. So much so that Seneca Falls started a winter festival every December, which my wife and I attended.

Statue Seneca Falls

Statue commemorating women’s rights in Seneca Falls, N.Y.

What we learned when we got there was the town’s connection to the American suffragette movement and women’s rights. Seneca Falls is home to the Women’s Rights National Historic Park, celebrating the first women’s rights convention in the U.S., held here in 1848. There’s also a unique store called WomanMade Products, just across the street.

“I am thrilled that WomanMade Products has found a home in Seneca Falls, home to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Amelia Bloomer and the first women’s newspaper, The Lily,”  owner Becky Bly says on her website. “For WomanMade Products, Seneca Falls is a feminist address for a feminist business.”

In 2015, I took a motor coach full of tourism operators and farmers from Norfolk County here, to explore how this town uses its unique attributes to attract tourists. Check out the blog post.

Happy International Women’s Day!

Navigating bureaucratic bottlenecks

Navigating bureaucratic bottlenecks

Time is money, so knowing how it’s being wasted will improve your bottom line.

people walking down the stairsBusinesses have the best of intentions when embarking on new construction or expansions. After engaging engineers and architects, filing planning approvals and building permits, everyone hopes the project will proceed as planned.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. For lots of reasons, bottlenecks materialize. Someone fails to communicate. Paperwork goes missing. A policy hasn’t been followed, or someone gets sick. Maybe someone over-promised and under-delivered.

Every agency and business involved in your project has a vested interest in saving face, so people sometimes point fingers of blame in all directions. An objective perspective is important.

Open the lid on stalled projects

Business owners and managers are busy, and don’t have the time to open the lid on a stalled project. Getting things back on track is crucial for success.

A new, affordable consulting service is available to review the status of a project within the local government approval process, be it building permits, planning permission or other issues. After a brief meeting to understand project status, the consultant can get to work investigating what went wrong.

With more than 20 years of experience in local government, I know how the process works. I can identify bottlenecks and propose solutions. With a client’s authorization, I can provide representation to investigate the road blocks, provide recommendations and help find the way forward.

It’s all handled confidentially, professionally and promptly.

Encountered a challenge? Contact me for a quote.

The power of the annual report

The power of the annual report

Annual reports can be dry, boring documents that fulfill a basic function: provide a record of an organization’s situation, a year at a time.

Yearly summaries can also help us demonstrate accountability, learn from our mistakes, celebrate successes, and build confidence.

Norfolk County Annual Report

Annual Report

One of my final tasks as Director of Tourism and Economic Development in Norfolk County was the assembly of the Department’s 2019 Annual Report. I’m proud of what our team accomplished over 18 years. It was an honour to contribute to a community I have known my whole life, and lived in since returning to raise a family in the 1990s.

Do you prepare an annual report for your business or organization? If you don’t, consider giving it a go. Here’s why.

Demonstrate transparency and accountability

The publication of an annual report tells others that your operation is open to scrutiny. In plain black-and-white (preferably with some colour), you detail your successes and failures for all to read about. There’s no hiding. Show you have confidence in your abilities by reporting on them.

Measure, manage, learn, grow

Peter Drucker

Peter Drucker

Management educator Peter Drucker said: “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” An annual report forces you to compare your goals with your outcomes, your budget with your actuals. If you have no metrics to report on, now is the time to start. Measuring success allows you to manage adjustments to your go-forward plan. Or as Drucker put it: “A crisis that recurs a second time is a crisis that must not ever occur again.”

Record the moment

Memory is a tricky thing, frequently unreliable. Time passes quickly. Before you know it, another year will pass. Take the time to record the highlights of each year, so you can look back with accuracy when you need to.

Celebrate success, discourage BS

An annual report lets you celebrate the successes of your owners, management, staff and customers, and share the glory with your partners and collaborators. But remember that people smell bullsh*t. If there was no progress on an objective, don’t use buzzwords to prop things up.  Example: Disruption in the sector was impactful and resulted in a pivot to new synergies. That’s B.S.! (Check out The Atlantic magazine article, “Corporate buzzwords are how workers pretend to be adults“.)

A powerful document

An annual report has incredible power. It can building confidence in your organization, show how accountable you are, force you to reflect, learn and improve. These are basic strategic elements that should be revisited by all organizations and leaders on a regular basis.

Don’t know where to start? Just sit down and write.




Sustainable Tourism: Treading lightly on the Earth

“Tread lightly on the Earth.” Strange words, perhaps, from someone who sells beer.

Charlotteville Beer

Charlotteville Brewing Co. Beer

But these are enlightened, welcome words in a community that supports environmental sustainability. The fact a tourism business operator is saying them speaks volumes about their maturity and foresight.

“We are seizing on sustainability, which is at the core of our business philosophy,” said Melanie Doerksen of Charlotteville Brewing Co., which recently won the Sustainable Tourism Award from the Long Point World Biosphere Reserve Foundation.

Sustainability philosophy

Charlotteville Brewing Co.’s sustainability philosophy includes:

  • Utilizing re-purposed materials
  • Growing raw ingredients organically or purchasing organic
  • Recycling grain stock used on-site as livestock feed
  • Recycling water
  • Paying personnel a living wage so they too can prosper
  • Striving for zero waste
  • Serving artisanal food and drink that’s as sustainable as it is delicious
Melanie Doerksen, Charlotteville Brewing, Photo: Jim Byers

Melanie Doerksen, Charlotteville Brewing Co. Photo: Jim Byers

Charlotteville’s Melanie Doerksen also told the Simcoe Reformer newspaper. “We’re trying to tread lightly on the Earth and show the community how you can own a sustainable business and make a profit at the same time.”

Fortuitously, at the same award ceremony, Doerksen was named Norfolk County Entrepreneur of the Year.

While business owners are leveraging the power of sustainable tourism in their day-to-day operations, elected officials are also taking risks, by staring down multinational companies.

Politicians are catching up

Bonaire cruiseships

Cruise ships docked at Bonaire, Dutch Caribbean

One of those politicians is Edison Rijna, Governor of Bonaire. This tiny Dutch Caribbean island is world renowned as a scuba-diving destination. A few years ago, Bonaire started to welcome cruise ships at 75 cents per person. The economic impact has been minimal, and the residents worry about the negative impact of big ships so close to a pristine marine environment. The divers hate the cruise ships — and now others are agreeing. In an interview in Trouw newspaper in the Netherlands, Rijna firmly supports a sustainable tourism model.

“We are prostituting our island”, he said. “I once spoke to an American from such a mass cruise on the quay in Kralendijk. He had paid $ 279 for a week. Unbelievable right? ‘Yes’, he said, ‘for that money I have a week vacation, here and there I buy a souvenir, I walk through the city and I eat and drink myself full on board for seven days’.”

“What are the benefits for us?” Rijna asked. “We don’t want people like that on Bonaire.”

The Governor would rather see efforts focused on smaller, specialized ships with a different audience, such as sailing cruises.

How can a tourism business benefit from sustainability?

  • Aim for consumers who can afford a higher price point
  • Focus on experiences that enlighten and educate
  • Rejig price points to generate bigger sales to a smaller customer base
  • Don’t compromise your philosophy, ever

Want to work on a Sustainable Tourism Strategy for your business? Contact me to discuss.



Learning moments at the Agriculture Economic Development Forum

Kudos to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Ontario Federation of Agriculture, and the communities of Leamington and Kingsville for hosting the 2019 Agriculture Economic Development Forum recently. There was lots to learn about on-farm diversification, automation, financing, urban agriculture, gleaning and more. Check out our learning moments at

Lifting the curtain on tourism product development

Lifting the curtain on tourism product development

Imagine going to a theatre and paying for a seat, only to realize you need to write, direct and act in the play to entertain yourself.

Sounds ridiculous! Now imagine that the theatre promoted itself on web, in print and on social media, without explaining that you were in for a do-it-yourself experience.

Crazy, right?


This scone was a highlight of the Fab Food Trail walking tour. It melted in my mouth. Quality tourism experiences leave indelible memories that visitors recount to others. Photo: Clark Hoskin

Unfortunately, for many tourism businesses, this is exactly the kind of experience their customers are expected to enjoy – season after season.

And if business seems to be slowing down, many tourism operators will choose to re-design their website or print more brochures.

Again, crazy.

Any tourist-oriented business needs to evaluate and, if need be, redesign the customer experience from top to bottom.

In my post 3 qualities needed for tourism success, I explained the basics. Your tourism product needs to be viable, reliable and buyable.

Many organizations choose to skip the last element – the ability to easily purchase your product.

What is tourism product? It is any location, experience or service that attracts tourists. A B&B, a restaurant, a scenic landscape, a campground: these are all tourism products.

So, what’s tourism product development? It is the bundling and monetization of a number of elements to increase the yield in terms of revenues, while respecting your carrying capacity.

Don’t jump to conclusions, thinking that you need to start developing packages with hotels and bus companies. Keep it simple. Just consider moving your current tourism product beyond a passive offering, to something active.

Moving to active tourism offerings is a challenge for some. For a heritage site or park, keeping things maintained within budget is the primary objective. Think how you could increasing the amount of money from an equal number of visitors through the gate so you won’t tax the resources available to serve them.

Let’s lift the curtain on tourism product development to maximize your revenue and minimize costs. To develop good tourism product, treat the process like producing a play.

I am going to compare one of my favourite travel experiences of 2016, Fab Food Trails in Ireland, to theatre production.

Stage (Property / Venue)

The first basic element is the empty stage. It’s your property. In the case of Fab Food Trails, the stage is the streets and small businesses of central Dublin.

Your stage – your business – is an empty experience without a good story, actors who know their lines, and a box office that sells tickets when the customer wants to buy them.

Story or Play (Tour / Experience / Package)

Write the script. What is the nature of the experience? Fab Food Trails offers a two to three hour guided walking tour of ten food stops. You get to meet and talk to chefs, baristas and cheesemongers, among others. You get to experience the neighbourhood culture of Dublin and receive insider knowledge about the flavours and personalities of Ireland’s foodie world.

Version 2

Audience (Tourist)

Who is your target market – the clientele who will want to experience this play? For Fab Food Trails, the target audience includes foodies and tourists, mainly mature and Millennial couples, willing to participate in a group experience and stretch their legs.

Actors (Guide / Front Line Staff)

Actors tell the story. They need to know their lines and the part they play. As for most tourism experiences, the property employs a paid or volunteer interpretive guide. Fab Food Trails uses a narrator, a walking-tour guide, pulled from a group of food-oriented people, including writers and journalists, chefs and others. Plus, at each of the ten stops along the way, there are more actors: speakers and presenters at the bakery, pub, outdoor market, cafe, etc. The photo at the top of this post features a worker at Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, who educated guests about Irish gouda cheese.

Stage Crew (Other Staff)

Like any quality theatre production, there is a professional support team working in the shadows. For Fab Food Trails, these people include the wait staff, chef and counter workers at the stops, plus the workers creating the food samples. These folks need to be prepared and knowledgeable about what is happening. They don’t need to know the script line-by-line, but they do need to change the set and have the props ready.

Producers (Tourism Business Owners)

Let’s take a reality check. Who’s backing this play? Who’s balancing the books? Without them, the play would not go on. This is the tourism business owner / operator. They oversee all the elements of the business, decide the quality of the product or service, and keep costs under control. For Fab Food Trails, the executive producer is founder Eveleen Coyle. But don’t forget her co-producers: the owners of all the stops along the trail.

Publicist (Marketing Plan)

Rehearsals are going well and dates for performances are arranged. Now to get the word out. This is the marketing plan, the promotional tactics. Theatres use digital, web, print and more to publicize the performances. Fab Food Trails runs a website and leverages the great TripAdvisor reviews (the critics) and awards received to garner attention.

Box Office (Reservation System)

Everyone knows you need to contact the box office to buy a theatre ticket – either online or in person. Where’s your box office? In this day and age, it better be online and easily accessible, 24 hours a day. Fab Food Trails has reservation and payment options available on the front page of their website.

Ticket Price (Experience / Package Price)

Don’t underprice your experience! The theatre producer wouldn’t. They need to pay their costs and make a profit. So do you. Fab Food Trails charges at least €55 ($80 Can) per person to experience their top-notch tour.

What taste does your business leave in the mouth of your customer?

After the show (Word of mouth / Bragging rights)

When the curtain goes down, audience members turn to one another and begin a conversation. Did you enjoy it? What was your favourite part? Along the Fab Food Trail, I learned about the Canadian owner of Camerino’s Bakery, who started her business from scratch based on a passion for baking. We tasted her scones slathered with Irish butter and black-currant jam. It melted in my mouth. For me, that was the most memorable scene in the show. My mouth is watering now. What taste does your business leave in the mouth of your customer?

Now it’s your turn. Take the stage (your venue) and create a production that will sell out.


Sharon Judd (right) leads a Walk the Crop Tour at Meadow Lynn Farms (Photo: Meadow Lynn Farms)

Own a fruit or vegetable farm? Hold a “walk the crop” night and sample the various varieties. Bring in a real farmer, like Meadow Lynn Farms of Norfolk County does, to animate the experience. Charge a fee.

Operate a campground or nature park? Develop a guided tour where guests gather food from nature to create a meal. Catch fish or forage for mushrooms – such as the annual Mushroom Foray at Long Point Eco-Adventures in Norfolk County. Charge a fee.

Opportunities in tourism have never been more vibrant, and never have your new customers had such high expectations. Prove that you can put on a good show that audiences will rave about and critics will love. If all goes well, profits will follow.

Other reading:

© 2016 Clark Hoskin