Rural Canadians learn from U.S. region: Part 5

Climbing Bines

Climbing Bines Hop Farm & Brewery / Photo: Melissa Collver

After our stops in Penn Yan, we headed east to Climbing Bines Hop Farm & Brewery, where we met Brian Karweck and his team.

The tour of the Finger Lakes by rural small business owners from Norfolk County, Canada, was organized by Norfolk County Tourism & Economic Development and sponsored by Ontario’s Southwest Tourism.

Brian explained how he and his business partner, a school teacher, created a business that filled a niche and also engaged their friends, family, neighbours and the community.

The development of Climbing Bines was aided by the passage of the 2013 New York State Farm Brewery Law, which liberalized regulations associated with on-farm breweries. The law was designed to increase demand for locally grown products to further increase economic impact and create new businesses surrounding the brewing industry.

Under the new law, in order to receive a Farm Brewery license in New York State, the beer must be made primarily from locally grown farm products. By 2024, no less than 90% of the hops and all other ingredients must be grown in New York State. Until then, there is a gradual increase in threshold amounts.

The beer manufactured under these guidelines would be designated as “New York State labeled beer.” The legislation was modeled after the 1976 Farm Winery Act, which spurred the growth of wine production in this state, including the creation of 261 farm wineries and tripling the number of wineries.

Brian Karweck of Climbing Bines Hop Farm & Brewery entertains our group / Photo: Clark Hoskin

Brian Karweck of Climbing Bines Hop Farm & Brewery entertains our group / Photo: Clark Hoskin

Under the farm brewery license, brewers do not need an additional permit to serve beer by the glass, which has the highest return for brewers in terms of sales. Farm brewers can also make cider and serve that cider by the glass. They are allowed to have five branch offices, where they can sell their products and other New York State labeled beer, wine, and spirits by the bottle, in addition to having tasting rooms, retail shops, restaurants, and serve samples and sell at farmers markets.

Climbing Bines also created a “Mug Club” aimed at building loyalty among locals and increasing visits and sales in the off-season. Some in the tour group were impressed with the brewery’s method of tracking beer samples.

“Climbing Bines had a great system with their dry erase marker and sheet protector for their tastings,” said one of our participants.

This was just one of the stops along the way on the Norfolk County Finger Lakes Study Tour. Watch this blog for more chapters in the story. See photos of the trip on the Invest in Norfolk facebook page.

(c) Clark Hoskin 2015

Finger Lakes Study Tour blog posts

  • Part 1: Wine & Culinary Centre | Technology Farm
  • Part 2: Winewagen Tours
  • Part 3: Weaverview Farms | Milly’s Pantry
  • Part 4: Yates County Arts Centre | Finger Lakes Ec Dev
  • Part 5: Climbing Bines Hop Yard & Brewery
  • Part 6: Wiemer Vineyards | Glenora Cellars
  • Part 7: Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel | Ice Bar
  • Part 8: Finger Lakes Distilling
  • Part 9: Cornell Lab of Ornithology | Ithaca Commons
  • Part 10: Americana Vineyards
  • Part 11: Seneca County Army Depot
  • Part 12: Seneca Falls
  • Part 13: Warfields Restaurant
  • Part 14: Debriefing at The Combine

Rural Canadians learn from U.S. region: Part 4

bank vault

Melissa Collver of the Waterford Heritage & Agricultural Museum of Norfolk County inspects the former bank vault at the Arts Centre for Yates County / Photo: Hayden Dooney

After lunch on Day 1, the group walked to the Yates County Arts Centre and browsed the local art on display.

The tour of the Finger Lakes by rural small business owners from Norfolk County, Canada, was organized by Norfolk County Tourism & Economic Development and sponsored by Ontario’s Southwest Tourism.

We met Kris Pearson, Executive Director of the arts centre, who explained how the organization rejuvenated itself, including the renovation of an old bank as the art gallery. The renovation incorporated the bank vault into its exhibits.

One of the challenges was fundraising. Pearson, who has experience in that area in past positions, was surprised early on when her board seemed daunted by the need to raise only $15,000. Her attitude is that the needed money existed in the community. The obstacle is merely that no one has been asked to donate it. By engaging the community, the Yates County Arts Centre was able to listen carefully and designed a program that responded to community needs. As a result, funds are raised, educational programs are expanding, and workshops now take place in an upstairs space, as well as on the organization’s Sunny Point retreat property located on Keuka Lake.

Next, Steve Griffin of the Finger Lakes Economic Development Corp. hopped on the bus. His organization is the sole economic development agency responsible for Yates County. Steve gave us a tour of some of the town’s new developments, including three hotels and two high-end condominiums. The Microtel hotel is almost complete in the downtown core. Last month, developers received approval to proceed with a 72-room Hampton Inn on the waterfront.

Economic Development Officers

Photo: John Christensen, Chronicle-Express

Asked how the town could sustain so many rooms, Steve explained that Penn Yan only has one hotel currently, and lots of sports tourism business and corporate overnight stays were being lost because of the lack of accommodation. Steve’s organization was able to offer hotel developers grants, tax abatement and other incentives to sweeten the deal.

One person on our tour would later write that the key take-away for them was “how important it is to have lived-in downtowns.” Steve’s tour of downtown Penn Yan was the voted favourite stop of Day 1 among the tour group, in a survey.

During the dark days of the flooding of Penn Yan in spring 2014, many people in the area rallied together to get through the catastrophe. It is obvious that the folks of Penn Yan don’t sit around and complain. They work hard and improve! These are great lessons to be learned by any small town in the U.S. or Canada.

“Much of the success of the businesses was based on the theme of build it and they will come,” said another of our tour participants. “We don’t even know what markets we are missing out on if we don’t take a chance and create experiences for people visiting our are.”

While we were in Yates County, John Christensen, reporter for the Penn Yan Chronicle-Express, followed us around and wrote a nice article about the tour.

These were just a few of the stops along the way on the Norfolk County Finger Lakes Study Tour. Watch this blog for more chapters in the story. See photos of the trip on the Invest in Norfolk facebook page.

(c) Clark Hoskin 2015

Finger Lakes Study Tour blog posts

  • Part 1: Wine & Culinary Centre | Technology Farm
  • Part 2: Winewagen Tours
  • Part 3: Weaverview Farms | Milly’s Pantry
  • Part 4: Yates County Arts Centre | Finger Lakes Ec Dev
  • Part 5: Climbing Bines Hop Yard & Brewery
  • Part 6: Wiemer Vineyards | Glenora Cellars
  • Part 7: Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel | Ice Bar
  • Part 8: Finger Lakes Distilling
  • Part 9: Cornell Lab of Ornithology | Ithaca Commons
  • Part 10: Americana Vineyards
  • Part 11: Seneca County Army Depot
  • Part 12: Seneca Falls
  • Part 13: Warfields Restaurant
  • Part 14: Debriefing at The Combine

Rural Canadians learn from U.S. region: Part 3

Weaverview Farms

Weaverview Farms / Photo: Clark Hoskin

We headed south of Geneva and stopped at Weaver-View Farm, operated by a Mennonite family who rent out a well-appointed farmhouse to tourists, offer bed and breakfast experiences, and run a gift shop in the barn.

The tour of the Finger Lakes by rural small business owners from Norfolk County, Canada, was organized by Norfolk County Tourism & Economic Development and sponsored by Ontario’s Southwest Tourism.

We were met by Pauline Weaver, the mother of the family, who turned out on this increasingly wintery day to show us the house used as a rental property.

We wanted to understand how the Old World values of this family fit into the New Economy, especially a digital one. In the case of Weaver-View, a neighbour operates the website and hand-delivers emails to the family. Then, Pauline calls the person on the phone and makes arrangements. Pauline explained that her family has had many offers from couples engaged to be married to use the property for wedding ceremonies. The barn, while quaint, would need to be brought up to the Building Code so that no one was in any danger.

Our bus headed next to the small town of Penn Yan, which turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip. This town has a heart of gold and never ceases to solve its challenges. Last spring, Penn Yan received 9 inches of rain in a short period of time, and the downtown was flooded. Many buildings were destroyed.

We were served lunch at The Pinwheel Market & Café, also home of Milly’s Pantry. Lunch was chili, soup and quiche made by volunteers in the café’s kitchen.

Pnwheel Cafe

Pinwheel Cafe, Penn Yan, home of Milly’s Pantry / Photo: Clark Hoskin

Suzan Richards of Milly’s Pantry explained the social enterprise housed in this facility. Yates County, which includes Penn Yan, has among the lowest household incomes in New York State. Years ago, a public health nurse named Milly Bloomquist witnessed children who weren’t learning well or were in trouble, tended to be hungry – even on weekends, when the school did not have the students in the building to feed. So Milly created the Weekend Back Pack program. Children could take a back pack filled with food home for the weekend to keep their hunger pangs at bay.

Today, more than 500 students participate in the program every weekend. Suzan explained that many older students are hungry but too proud to ask for a back pack. Commissions from sales of art and jewellery, as well as profits from the café, provide funds to purchase food for the Weekend Back Packs. Susan acknowledged that, by choosing to have lunch at The Pinwheel Café, our tour group helped feed a half-dozen children for a significant period of time. Milly Bloomquist passed away in 2014 in her 90s. However, before she died, she received the Presidential Citizens Medal from U.S. President Barack Obama.

One of the tour’s participants commented: “Very similar issues that we face in Norfolk County are shared by the communities that we visited. The impact that something as simple as a lunch can have on others (Milly’s Pantry). The power of the community partnerships in achieving important community goals.”

These were a few of the stops along the way on the Norfolk County Finger Lakes Study Tour. Watch this blog for more chapters in the story. See photos of the trip on the Invest in Norfolk facebook page.

(c) Clark Hoskin 2015

Finger Lakes Study Tour blog posts

  • Part 1: Wine & Culinary Centre | Technology Farm
  • Part 2: Winewagen Tours
  • Part 3: Weaverview Farms | Milly’s Pantry
  • Part 4: Yates County Arts Centre | Finger Lakes Ec Dev
  • Part 5: Climbing Bines Hop Yard & Brewery
  • Part 6: Wiemer Vineyards | Glenora Cellars
  • Part 7: Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel | Ice Bar
  • Part 8: Finger Lakes Distilling
  • Part 9: Cornell Lab of Ornithology | Ithaca Commons
  • Part 10: Americana Vineyards
  • Part 11: Seneca County Army Depot
  • Part 12: Seneca Falls
  • Part 13: Warfields Restaurant
  • Part 14: Debriefing at The Combine

Rural Canadians learn from U.S. region: Part 2

At the Ramada Waterfront Hotel in Geneva, right on the shoreline of Seneca Lake, our group met Zach Cutlip, owner of Winewagen Tours. The Winewagen – a 1971 Volkswagen Westfalia – is Zach’s brainchild and labour of love.

The tour of the Finger Lakes by rural small business owners from Norfolk County, Canada, was organized by Norfolk County Tourism & Economic Development and sponsored by Ontario’s Southwest Tourism.

winewagen tours

Winewagen Tours / Photo: Clark Hoskin

Winewagen Tours is a family owned and operated tour company that provides transportation between wineries, breweries, distilleries, eats and sights throughout the Finger Lakes region. If Zach had his way, he would play Grateful Dead tapes as he drives between the wineries, however he does have a Bluetooth sound system if guests would like to play their own music.

We learned how Zach loves his work while delivering a “wow” experience. He explained that he started out expecting only to book a few tours during a season. He soon learned that his Volkswagen bus is in high demand, and he has taken dozens of tour groups around the Finger Lakes.

Zach acknowledged that he fills a niche tour product area that serves groups who do not want the typical limo or tour bus experience. This was the first time Zach had been asked to prepare a presentation about his business, and he answered several questions from our group. When he asked if anyone wanted a ride to the next stop, a forest of hands went up through the motor coach.

Winewagen Tours / Photo: Hayden Dooney

Winewagen Tours / Photo: Hayden Dooney

After the tour, Zach emailed this message to Norfolk County:

“I had a blast talking with your group and giving some of them a taste of the Winewagen. There were so many things that I could of shared, I just hope your group came away with something from my incoherent ramblings. I guess one thing that has been essential to our growth has been us just being us. Also one of the hardest things has been trusting our own train of thoughts. 

‘I know we like this, but should we change or do something different to appeal to the masses?’ Absolutely not! This has been tough for us but surprisingly has worked. The ones that find us, love us. The ones that don’t, well just don’t and at the end of the day don’t really affect us. We know we aren’t for everybody and that really isn’t our goal either.

Sure, we could have went out and got a stretch limo and could possibly be making way more money, but that was not ever our intention. We don’t share nearly the same passion for a limo and money as we do for our VW bus and the Finger Lakes. We can taste it in a dish at a restaurant or in a glass of wine, the ones that are truly doing what they love will triumph every time. We are truly doing what we love and this translates well in our customers’ experience.   These were just some thoughts I had reminiscing about our meeting and I just needed to remind myself of a few things. Best wishes and we hope to get up to your neck of the woods soon to check out your operation as well.”

On the topic of Winewagen Tours, one of the tour participants said: “Would love to encourage and promote an independent tour operator(s) similar to the WineWagen Tours. This is something that I believe would go over extremely well in our area as the beverage experiences are not centralized and you need some kind of transport to get to experience them. Wonder what that would require in terms of licensing and/or approvals from Norfolk County.”

This was just one of the stops along the way on the Norfolk County Finger Lakes Study Tour. Watch this blog for more chapters in the story. See photos of the trip on the Invest in Norfolk facebook page.

(c) Clark Hoskin 2015

Finger Lakes Study Tour blog posts

  • Part 1: Wine & Culinary Centre | Technology Farm
  • Part 2: Winewagen Tours
  • Part 3: Weaverview Farms | Milly’s Pantry
  • Part 4: Yates County Arts Centre | Finger Lakes Ec Dev
  • Part 5: Climbing Bines Hop Yard & Brewery
  • Part 6: Wiemer Vineyards | Glenora Cellars
  • Part 7: Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel | Ice Bar
  • Part 8: Finger Lakes Distilling
  • Part 9: Cornell Lab of Ornithology | Ithaca Commons
  • Part 10: Americana Vineyards
  • Part 11: Seneca County Army Depot
  • Part 12: Seneca Falls
  • Part 13: Warfields Restaurant
  • Part 14: Debriefing at The Combine
Rural Canadians learn from U.S. region: Part 1

Rural Canadians learn from U.S. region: Part 1

On March 3, 2015, at 6:00 a.m., a coach bus full of rural small business owners left Norfolk County, Ontario to tour the Finger Lakes region of New York State. The two-day, one-night trip was organized by Norfolk County Tourism & Economic Development and sponsored by Ontario’s Southwest Tourism. It was my great pleasure and honour to serve as tour organizer.

Wine centre sign

New York State Wine & Culinary Centre / Photo by Anita Buehner, Bonnieheath Estate Lavender & Winery

Our first stop in the Finger Lakes was the town of Canandaigua, for a coffee stop at the New York State Wine & Culinary Centre. This centre celebrates and showcases New York’s finest in wine, craft beer, food and agriculture. Pete Rogers, the General Manager, met our group, gave us a general overview of the centre’s activities, and provided coffee and pastries. A few on our tour checked out the tasting room at the centre, which features a rotating array of New York wines, beers and spirits. The centre also has a gift shoppe, conference room, and a restaurant with a patio that overlooks Canandaigua Lake. The Centre is well known for its demonstration theatre and hands-on kitchen. Classes and workshops include everything from wine pairing and bread baking to sausage making, knife skills and beer 101. Local caterers also rent the kitchen to prepare food for off-site events.

One of our tour participants was amazed by the centre: “If Norfolk County had a culinary centre much like the one we visited, it could become a valuable tool to promote the foods, wine, beer and spirits of our area, attract tourists and serve the local community as well.”

John Johnson of The Cornell Agriculture & Food Technology Farm tells our group about his organization / Photo: Clark Hoskin
John Johnson of The Cornell Agriculture & Food Technology Farm tells our group about his organization / Photo: Clark Hoskin

Our next stop was Geneva, home of The Cornell Agriculture & Food Technology Park, also known as “The Technology Farm”. The Certified Business Incubator is located on 72 acres of former Cornell University research orchards. We met John Johnson, the Executive Director, who explained the history of this $7-million complex. The building has one of the most advanced ventilation systems, and can completely exchange all the air in three minutes. One of most successful businesses on The Technology Farm is Cheribundi, founded by a local man who moved away, but returned to Geneva to visit his family. During one trip, he discovered that cherry juice helped with his aches and pains. He decided to turn the opportunity into a business. It took a few years for Cheribundi to create its processes and find markets. Now, every 8-ounce bottle of Cheribundi cherry juice has over 50 sour cherries in it. Packed with phytonutrients, the sour cherry is known as “the tart cherry“ in the U.S. and is a source of nutrients for the body. Cheribundi has built their entire company around the cherry, supporting the farmers who grow them and perfecting a juicing process that retains all of its delicious benefits. Although The Technology Farm acknowledges that an incubator usually operates on the concept that new businesses will leave the nest, the food business requires more patience to develop innovative processes and enter very competitive markets.

Cheribundi sells their juice to over 100 professional and college teams, including the New England Patriots, NFL Superbowl Champions. Cheribundi has become so successful that the Tech Farm is seeking funds to build a new facility for their manufacturing process. They will need a bigger facility, as John Johnson explained that the Cheribundi juice will soon be sold across the U.S. through Walmart stores.

Down the hall, our tour group saw the manufacturing facility for Stony Brook WholeHeartedFoods, which presses oil from squash and pumpkin seeds. The company’s partner, Martin Farms, grows Butternut, Delica and Kobacha squash and provides the seeds to Stony Brook, which uses an artisal process to create culinary oils. The company also produces pepitas, brined and roasted pumpkin seeds grown by U.S. producers.

“The Cornell Agriculture & Food Technology Park was fantastic and would be an awesome template for us to try in Norfolk County,” one of our participants said.

These were just two of the stops along the way on the Norfolk County Finger Lakes Study Tour. Watch this blog for more chapters in the story. See photos of the trip on the Invest in Norfolk facebook page.

Finger Lakes Study Tour blog posts

  • Part 1: Wine & Culinary Centre | Technology Farm
  • Part 2: Winewagen Tours
  • Part 3: Weaverview Farms | Milly’s Pantry
  • Part 4: Yates County Arts Centre | Finger Lakes Ec Dev
  • Part 5: Climbing Bines Hop Yard & Brewery
  • Part 6: Wiemer Vineyards | Glenora Cellars
  • Part 7: Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel | Ice Bar
  • Part 8: Finger Lakes Distilling
  • Part 9: Cornell Lab of Ornithology | Ithaca Commons
  • Part 10: Americana Vineyards
  • Part 11: Seneca County Army Depot
  • Part 12: Seneca Falls
  • Part 13: Warfields Restaurant
  • Part 14: Debriefing at The Combine

Fruitful road trip for rural EDOs

Each fall, economic development professionals from rural and agricultural communities across Ontario gather to compare notes. Last year, Norfolk County had the honour of hosting. This year, we all went to Northumberland County. It was a superb learning experience. Day One on October 29, 2014 included a tour of the area’s agricultural highlights, which is the focus of this post.

Municipality creates IDEAHUB to foster startups

Port Hope IDEAHUB / Photo: Clark Hoskin

Port Hope IDEAHUB / Photo: Clark Hoskin

First stop was a tour of the Port Hope IDEAHUB, a full-service business incubator led by the municipality of Port Hope to foster new business startups. Graduated tenancy has a maximum of three years, with the first year’s lease costing $8 per square foot plus $6.50 TMI. The folks at IDEAHUB explained the facility is at 50% capacity, has produced six successful graduates, 69 full-time equivalent jobs and $1.2 million in local spending. Current tenants include Kalgene Pharmaceuticals (developing an Alzheimer’s disease therapeutic), The Apple Crumble Co. (successful dessert food processing company), Clipless (launching phone and tablet mounting system) and GEL – the Gaming and Entrepreneurship Lab, which includes companies such as Skopworks.

Burnham Farm Market

Pie at Burnham Farm Market / Photo: Clark Hoskin

Pies draw traffic to family-owned farm market

Next stop was Burnham Farm Market, winners of the BMO Farm Family of the Year in 2013. I was happy to see so many Norfolk County products for sale at this market (Cider Keg, Kernal Peanuts) as well as Shabatura tomatoes. Anne Burnham showed us the ovens that bake hundreds of homemade pies each year. In fact, the market received 725 orders for pies for Thanksgiving. Although the margins are low on pies, they create traffic in the market, which generates sales of fruit and vegetables, where margins are higher. Burnham Farm Market employs about 20 workers from May 1 to December 23. Anne and her husband Paul are also 2014 Campaign Chairs for United Way Northumberland County, which funds programs such as the Food 4 All Northumberland, a non-profit centralized food distribution warehouse promoting food security. It was great to hear that the United Way accomplished its goal to fundraise $970,000. For a community of 73,000 people, that is phenomenal.

The Big Apple earns its smile

Big Apple

Before and After – The Big Apple … which do you prefer?

Our next stop told the story of how community pride in a local icon, coupled with commitment by new owners, revitalized a derelict asset. Over several years, The Big Apple fell on hard times and gained a reputation for poor customer service, creating an embarrassment for this community on the 401. The new owner (John Vince Foods, which owns the Planter’s Peanuts brand in Canada) completed significant renovations and modified the focus to local food. Part of the turnaround was recognition that the apple pies baked on-site were not well received. The new owner read reviews from consumers and rebuilt the apple pie recipe — filling and pastry — from scratch. Now, The Big Apple hosts up to 50 buses per day in the high season, selling as many as 1,500 pies a day. (October 29, we were told, was a 500-pie day.) One small touch the new owner implemented was the painting of a smile on the apple statue. It was a small touch, but a symbolic achievement. The Big Apple is now a must-stop destination between Toronto and Montreal.

Ontario Agri-Food Venture Centre

Ontario Agri-Food Venture Centre / Photo: Clark Hoskin

Unprecedented County commitment

The final stop of the day caused jaws to drop among economic development officers from other communities. We had the priviledge of touring the Ontario Agri-Food Venture Centre. Northumberland County’s Economic Development and Tourism Office is completing the construction of a 15,000-square-foot niche food processing centre on agricultural lands just north of Hwy 401. The farm sector asked for it during a County-led Business Retention & Expansion project, so the facility will become a pay-to-play centre for product development and food processing. The project is budgeted at $2.3 million, with Northumberland County (yes – the actual county) contributing $1.15 million and operating the centre as a direct function of the municipality (yes – more jaws drop). The Local Food Fund, CFDCs, Ontario Trillium Foundation and the local federation of agriculture also invested. Currently, about four enquiries are being received per day from businesses interested in using the facility. For EDOs from municipalities that must be seen to be supporting agriculture (but spend as few tax dollars as possible) this is a game-changer. Northumberland County has set the bar high for all other agricultural communities. They listened to their farmers and food processors – and invested courageously. Hats off to Dan Borowec, Trissia Mellor, Joe Mullin and the entire team at Northumberland County Economic Development and Tourism!

The Conference begins

The day wrapped up at the Ganaraska Forest Centre with talks by Steve Peters of Food and Beverage Ontario, Jamie Reaume of the Holland Marsh Growers’ Association and Pat Learmonth of Farms at Work. This session included lots of great information, insights and not-so-gentle kidding among the speakers. In a nutshell, the message was that rural communities and agriculture stakeholders must band together to get their collective voices heard in a government regime that now has an urban bias.

Hopefully, in a future post, I can summarize the learning moments from the actual conference on October 30, 2014. Stay tuned for information on next year’s event.

12 learning moments at #EDAC14

The annual conference of the Economic Development Association of Canada (EDAC) was held in Calgary in September 2014. Here are some of the highlights of information that I learned.

1. Lower dollar, business lacks enthusiasm: Quarter after quarter, Canadian banks predict that the economy will pick up and it hasn’t in any solid way, said Todd Hirsch of ATB Financial, the largest Alberta-based financial institution. Exports and business investment lack enthusiasm in Canada, but 2015 will be a better year for the Canadian economy, with 2.5 to 3% GDP growth. The International Monetary Fund predicts that Canada will be Number 2 in growth in 2015, after the United Kingdom. The U.S. economy is growing at a faster rate than Canada’s, which means the U.S. will raise its interest rates before Canada does. Hirsch predicts the Canadian dollar will drop to the 87 to 89 cent range in 2015. The fundamentals of the Canadian economy aren’t bad, Hirsch explained, and the Canadian dollar will not go into a free fall, as some have predicted.

Drumheller street

Drumheller embraces its dinosaurs (see #10)

2. Talented workers will move to loved communities: Place matters more than ever to the success of community economic development, according to Dr. Katherine Loflin, who spoke about “place-making” and the drivers behind it. Her research demonstrates that it’s not good enough any more that residents are satisfied living in a community. In order to attract younger, highly skilled talent, communities need to nurture a “commitment to place”, a multidisciplinary attachment. Your community must become the place no one ever wants to leave. Key drivers to place-making include social offerings (so people feel emotionally invested in a community), openness (welcoming to all vs. tolerant to specific groups), and aesthetics (how well a community can show off itself). Dr Loflin explained that the civility of a community’s citizens is critical to attracting new people. She also said that municipal budget cuts tend to affect place-making efforts first, which can leave a negative impression to newcomers.

3. Trade across the border is getting easier: Canada and the U.S. are making good progress on the joint Border Infrastructure Investment Plan (BIIP), according to William Sproull, Chair of the Governance Committee of the International Economic Development Council (IEDC). Given that Canada exports more goods to Michigan than to the European Union, it is about time. Trusted Traveler and Trusted Trader Programs are moving forward, as well as other Beyond the Border deliverables.

Calgary Fly-Drive promo

A fly-drive vacation promoted to U.K. visitors (Source: Frontier Canada)

4. Connect your community to the nearest airport: The Vice President of the Calgary Airport Authority, Stephan Pourier, inspired me to consider how to best to connect our community to airports. He explained that YYC is the third largest airport in Canada, thanks to an 80-year lease with government and $2.5 billion in private investment. Development of cargo and freight forwarding services has also encouraged the construction of 3 million square feet of industrial space on the airport lands.

5. Performance measures are more important than ever: Justin Riemer, Assistant Deputy Minister of Alberta Innovation and Advanced Education reminded us that when it comes to economic development, “outcome attribution is assumed, not proven.” He promoted the concept that policy can have a bigger impact than marketing, that sunset clauses should be placed on government programs to avoid creating dependencies. He reminded us that communities should limit the number of metrics used to measure economic development, and performance measures should reflect the goals and vision of the organization.

Nenshi Billboard

Calgary Mayor Nenshi wants senior governments to give back some of what they take from municipalities (Photo: design.ca)

6. Fiscal imbalance among governments needs to be fixed: Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi reminded the audience that Calgary sends $4 billion more in tax revenue to the Province of Alberta than it receives in services. He berated senior levels of government for not fixing the fiscal imbalance that exists for all cities and towns. The flood in Calgary proved to Mayor Nenshi that local government is the most important and relevant level of government to everyday citizens. He applauded the 20,000 workers at the City for their hard work, professionalism and dedication, adding “our job is made easier by the quality of the people we serve.”

7. Be likeable and trustworthy: Wealthy Barber Dave Chilton, who also appears on CBC’s Dragon’s Den, told stories about small business people and entrepreneurs who have become successful. “People like to deal with people they like and trust,” he explained, adding he believes in “the importance in life of being nice” to others. Chilton complained that increasingly people opt to be voluntarily in a bad mood. He said people have lost the ability to discriminate between a minor inconvenience and a major problem. Canadians have never been healthier and wealthier, and our nation is the best place to live. He reminded us that although we complain about our health care system, we are living longer than ever before, even if don’t exercise or eat properly. “If you are healthy and you are Canadian, it doesn’t get any better.”

8. Connect your college to your community: A panel, including the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, discussed the return on investment in post-secondary communities. One panelist encouraged us to talk about “citizens” not “taxpayers”. “If we don’t see the importance of growing citizens, no one else will.” Citizens look at themselves as sharing with others and giving back to their community. Taxpayers are simply consumers of public services and expect the lowest possible cost. The positive example was also raised, about a business group in St. Catharines that invites international students to breakfast to introduce them to local business leaders.

9. Be careful with P3s: A panel about private-public partnerships reminded us that P3s are not the magic bullet for community infrastructure. Martin Gordon, Senior Vice President of Opus International, urged communities to ensure that they clearly define the level of service of a facility which will be privately built and operated. “Incentivize the project so that the private sector is a long-term good asset steward,” he explained. Threshold participation in P3s is about $25 million for a building and $100 million for a large portfolio project. Smaller communities were warned to be prepared to put forward the time, resources and expertise into a project upfront, to avoid catastrophe later. Even if a community project does not develop into a P3, at least the exercise of scoping out a P3 can help a municipality understand the sustainable service level for a project, and to help reduce the infrastructure gap.

10. Dinosaurs don’t get old: Drumheller relies on dinosaur fossils for its tourism industry, which represents 27% of employment in the town, according to its tourism master plan. Natural gas is also a key employer. The Royal Tyrrell Museum (Canada’s only museum dedicated exclusively to the science of palaeontology) contributed $36.2 million to Alberta’s GPI (Genuine Progress Indicator), sustained 719 person-years of employment and generated nearly $14 million in tax revenues. Downtown, kids climb over fiberglas statues of dinosaurs and restaurants serve Dinosaur Pizza (hint: heavy in protein). At the tourist info centre, you can even climb up a huge dinosaur and look around the town. Kudos to a community that has embraced an authentic theme, turning it into an economic success.

Bike locker

Bike locker in Canmore, Alberta

11. We can always do more to welcome cyclists: Just when we thought installing a few bicycle racks in our towns was a major step forward to welcoming cyclists, other communities are already way out in front. Canmore, a small community between Calgary and Banff, is a leading light in cycling infrastructure. Expensive pedal bikes can be secured in low-profile lockers in the public parking lot, beside the washrooms. Nearby, a free, public bike maintenance stand offers wrenches and compressed air for cyclists. Local trail infrastructure is also world-class, and the scenery is gorgeous.

12. When you network with your peers, everyone learns: Whether you represent a mountain town reliant on ski tourism or a rural agricultural county, there is something to be learned from getting together.

The EDAC Conference was an educational, productive exercise that will help many communities do better in the future.

Coral Reef: $142,000 per acre

Coral Reef: $142,000 per acre

A tropical island has valued its natural assets in a bid to retain a conservation-friendly tourist market.

Under the blazing Caribbean sun basks an island no smaller than my own Ontario community. The island of Bonaire and the county of Norfolk share few other similarities. Yes, you can scuba dive in both places. No, not a lot of people have heard of either locale.

So when our dive club visited this Dutch island, it was surprising to see the installation of sewer pipes for the first time in history.

A new treatment plant worth US$35 million is starting to draw waste from resorts, businesses and homes along Bonaire’s coast and inland. Funds from the Netherlands are building a sewage system to European standards.

It seems the environmentalists of the island have miraculously joined forces with the developers to allow for new economic activity while protecting the precious coral reefs that attract millions in tourism revenue each year.

The case of Bonaire’s rebirth in an economic downturn may help the rest of us train our political masters to stop chasing smokestacks and “low hanging fruit”. Investing in infrastructure that supports food production and tourism while simultaneously improving our natural environment may be the better option.

In Bonaire, researchers put a price on conserving nature by gathering opinions from residents and tourists on the value of the land and sea around them.

Bonaire

It’s always 32 C in Bonaire

A Dutch professor, Dr. Dolf de Groot, led an international team to develop the financial value of ecosystems. Backed by a major European university, his team’s new database of natural assets pegged the annual financial contribution of a coral reef at US$142,000 per acre. By comparison, an acre of grassland was valued at US$1,100.

The project led to the expression of a total estimated value of nature in Bonaire as US$105 million per year. De Groot’s project estimated tourism spending in Bonaire at US$125 million annually, 80% of which comes from overnight tourists. Most of the “better spenders” are divers or people with a passion for protecting the marine environment. The remaining tourists arrive on cruise ships for a few hours then leave.

The team asked the lucrative overnight tourists if they would return to Bonaire should the coral reefs deteriorate. No surprise: about half said they would go somewhere else.

The research team went even further, asking hundreds of consumers to put a price on changes to the natural and built environment.

On average, individuals were willing to pay US$21 per month to improve coral reefs from poor to high quality. They were willing to pay US$8 per month to improve beach access by 50%. On Bonaire, grazing wild goats cause soil erosion resulting in pollutants entering the sea and spoiling coral reefs. Respondents were willing to pay US$15 per month to cull the wild goats.

Armed with this information, the researches deduced that “fees for using the nature on the island could be increased without negatively affecting the visitation rate in Bonaire”.

The study criticizes an assumption by politicians that cruise ships encourage repeat visitation. In fact, very few cruise ship passengers return to Bonaire to stay over for longer vacations. In a nutshell, cruise ship patrons admitted to researchers that they could care less if the island deteriorates. Dutch politicians are in love with the island, escaping their damp northern climate as often as possible to assess the situation down south.

Bonaire is not Norfolk County. Since tax regulations were changed by the Netherlands over the past 18 months, income taxes are set at a flat rate. businesses on Bonaire pay zero profit tax and 5% tax on dividends. The island is now one of the Caribbean’s major banking centers, alongside the Bahamas, Cayman Islands, Bermuda and Panama. Among them, these tax havens retain almost $2 trillion in US debt.

Even with that advantage, locals feel less represented, continue to complain that taxes are still too high and entrepreneurs are stifled. They have a point: the new tax regime collected 18% more revenue than the old one. Themandatory sewer hookups are perceived as a burden and the treatment plant is getting mixed reviews.

The lesson from Bonaire is not new: retaining an existing client base is less expensive than attracting a new one. Keep your current clients happy by investing in the quality and reliability of the product that they buy from you. For communities, improving the economic environment for local residents will come from actively improving the natural environment. Our customers in the tourism industry will reward us for it.

As a diver who enjoys Bonaire, you can bet I will return. Not just for a view of the Caribbean, but to explore the breathtaking wonderland of fish and coral below the surface.

……

Photo (top): The author Clark Hoskin diving in Bonaire. This Caribbean island frequently receives critical acclaim as a worldwide diving destination by media such as Scuba Diving magazine. Photo by Tracy Haskett.

Clark Hoskin is Manager of Tourism and Economic Development for Norfolk County, home of Long Point Bay, where many Lake Erie shipwrecks can be found by divers. © 2012 Clark Hoskin

Getting your community noticed: Do your homework

Getting your community noticed: Do your homework

Clark Hoskin

Clark Hoskin

By Clark Hoskin

Article originally written for economicdevelopment.org:

At the 2014 annual conference organized by the Economic Developers’ Council of Ontario (EDCO), Norfolk County staff were asked to speak on a panel of communities about getting noticed in a crowded marketplace by highlighting our unique qualities.

Rather than delve into the detailed tactics used by Norfolk County to garner attention, we pondered some basic lessons learned over the course of ten years. At the EDCO presentation, three tips were presented.

1. Do your homework.

Sometimes, it is difficult to value the need for research when your world is turned upside down. Norfolk County encountered this challenge when it was presented with a threat to its primary agriculture crop.

About ten years ago, tobacco production in Norfolk County fell off a precipice. Marketed poundage of the Golden Leaf dropped from 158 million pounds in 1997 and bottomed out at about 14 million pounds in 2009. At the time, one local councilor bristled at the use of the phrase “demise of tobacco” in discussions. He was correct, in that tobacco is still grown here. However, our community is no longer defined by tobacco. The journey to that destination took a long time.

An economic development strategy developed just prior to those dark days pinpointed tourism as a potential alternative economic driver. There was pressure to do something, anything, to renew the economy of Norfolk County.

Turning desperation into action could have been disastrous, but luckily Norfolk County has many innovative, forward-thinking people willing to take risks. We established an agricultural networking team and discussed how to activate the strategy. The concept of a “Taste of Norfolk” event kept popping up, over and over.

flavourfestNot wishing to create a whole new event, we reached out to the organizers of the Norfolk County Fair & Horse Show, held every October since 1840. It is the fourth largest fair in Ontario and likely the largest – and most truly agricultural – fair in Canada. In 2004, a corner of one building was set aside for a new exhibit, Norfolk FlavourFest. Norfolk County farmers assembled at the Fair, created a marketplace for consumers to sample and buy their produce and food products. Fair organizers handled the cash, took a commission, and everyone was happy with the first year’s results: about $9,000 in sales of produce.

Remember: this happened in 2004 — a year before the term locavore was coined and two years before the 100 Mile Diet was published.

Norfolk County Cookbook

Norfolk County Cookbook designed by Tracy Haskett

The success of the exercise helped fuel the development of our popular map and local food guide and later, a recipe book. Everyone talked about Norfolk County being an agricultural powerhouse and, strangely, we were accustomed to hearing ourselves described as “the most diverse agricultural region in Canada”. Those words spell boredom to a tourist. The challenge was on to find unique characteristics about Norfolk County that would make it special to an urban audience of potential tourists.

2. Discover your edge.

Unfortunately, there was little detail in our files about what we grew other than reams of data about tobacco poundage and lists of seasons for fruits and vegetables. Norfolk County had the hunger for an edge, the intuition that we were an agricultural leader, and the need to know more.

We had no budget for research, but the internet provided free access to Statistic Canada’s data, including the Census of Agriculture.

Homework led to our first discovery: Norfolk County grows more strawberries than anywhere else in Canada. This early epiphany intrigued us, so other crops were researched. Without any cost (except staff time – mainly spent after work) data also emerged to support Norfolk County’s status as the nation’s leading grower of sweet corn, peppers, ginseng, asparagus, pumpkin, cabbage, and tart cherries used for baking.

Energized by these results, more research was done. We discovered that Norfolk County is a leading grower of apples, raspberries, potatoes, tomatoes, blueberries and specialty vegetables in Ontario. Our hunch proved to be correct, and we have the numbers to prove it.

Norfolk County baskets

Norfolk County produce packaging

Kitchen table meetings with wholesale growers led to the use of the Norfolk County brand on produce baskets and boxes destined for grocery chains and the Ontario Food Terminal.

An agricultural marketing program was developed, including road signage, website (norfolkfarms.com), email newsletter, social media (facebook and twitter), radio ads, detailed farmer profiles, newspaper inserts, videos and more. Eventually, the Fair would launch a separate Eat & Drink Norfolk event every April.

Farmers and local food suppliers pooled funding with the County to support the program. Farmers too busy to represent Norfolk County at consumer events were glad to see the emergence of the Fairly Fat Guys, two local volunteers who enjoyed cooking and talking about Norfolk County farmers and food.

fairly-fat-guys-300x240

Norfolk County’s Original Local Food Ambassadors: The Fairly Fat Guys

As local wineries began to open, we adopted the new “Norfolk County: Ontario’s Garden” brand – a legitimate, authentic slogan that we could back up with numbers.

3. Reach out to stakeholders … and listen to their wisdom!

Doing our homework now meant checking in continuously with those who were wiser than us: the farmers and businesses that helped shaped the program. We made outreach a habit through monthly advisory board meetings, annual marketing plan focus groups, emails to partners, ongoing calls to individual businesses and farms, and our annual economic development symposium.

Norfolk FlavourFest won an award in 2007 from EDCO for Best Tourism Special Event / Campaign. By Year 9, the food marketplace portion was grossing over $50,000 in sales and, next door, the new Eat & Drink section featuring wineries, microbreweries and local restaurants was equalling those sales.

Norfolk County’s overall agricultural marketing campaign won an award of merit in 2008 from EDCO. Website visits to norfolkfarms.com continue to grow annually. Participation in the Norfolk County agriculture marketing program has increased from zero in 2003 to almost 100 in 2013. Many new businesses have established themselves in the area, including wineries, breweries, lavender farms, and restaurants catering to locavores.

Our community and its agricultural sector always possessed those unique attributes that we were able to turn into a successful marketing program. By doing our homework, discovering our edge, reaching out to our stakeholders and – most importantly – listening to their wisdom, Norfolk County, Ontario’s Garden, found a way to be heard in a crowded marketplace.

© 2014 Clark Hoskin

Mumford meets tourism: music to our rural ears

Originally published as “Testing tactics in heritage tourism” on July 19, 2013 on economicdevelopment.org

Over the years, our economic development office has tried very hard to promote heritage as part of the tourism product offering. Hopefully our latest try — leveraging the power of a popular folk band — will get tourists to visit us and celebrate our musical legends.

Norfolk County has fantastic, vibrant museums with excellent programming and strong support from locals and visitors. There are numerous heritage-oriented activities throughout the year, too, from Doors Open to battle re-enactments. Despite these solid experiences, it remains difficult to ignite the desire to travel to Norfolk County for a heritage experience in anyone other than a history buff. Beaches, the lake, cottages and camping are, and will continue to be, the bread and butter of motivation for visitors to set their sights on Norfolk County.

A few months ago, an opportunity came along that we couldn’t pass up. For a variety of reasons, the award-winning U.K. band Mumford & Sons shortlisted Norfolk County to host their only Canadian stopover on the Gentlemen of the Road tour. The musicians clearly have an avid fan base, so we captured some video of their decision-making trip to Norfolk County and kept it in the can for a potential walk-in-the-footsteps-of-Mumford promotion. What better way to boost visits and spending?

On the day of the announcement by Live Nation, promoter Jason Grant praised the locals who welcomed the site selectors. But he also specifically named Rick Danko, member of The Band (with Levon Helm, Robbie Robertson et al), as a primary motivator. Rick grew up in Norfolk County, then left to become famous. When we mentioned to Mumford & Sons that this is his hometown, Jason said, they lit up immediately. Remember when they performed The Weight as part of the Helm tribute at The Grammy Awards?

Success can be distressing sometimes. When tickets were released, they sold within half an hour, even with the band’s attempts to thwart scalpers. More are being made available, but they will sell quickly as well. The new goal was to lure people to Norfolk County in the weeks before and after the concert. This was a major challenge but our authentic, local connection, Rick Danko, provided inspiration.

We plotted the old dance halls on a map, read some history books, then turned to Facebook friends for memories. Overnight, local residents were telling stories on our social media sites about the fun they had at Norfolk County dance halls in the 1950s , ’60s and ’70s. That was when big names like Ronnie Hawkins, RUSH, Lighthouse, BTO, Chubby Checker and others toured the dance hall circuit.

The Summer Garden in Port Dover was the most popular dance hall. It was where Rick met Hawkins, which led to the formation of The Band. The Summer Garden was torched by an arsonist in 1979 (causing many in Port Dover to weep in the streets) but the legacy of the musicians who played there lives on.

So, our office pulled together a touring route that connected the old dance halls, none of which are open anymore. It appeared a bit empty on the route, so we mentioned all the other things to do along the way, including our theatres and museums, hotels and B&Bs, farm markets, beaches, campgrounds and more. Check out the route on this Google Map.

The community got involved. The Port Dover Harbour Museum set up a special Summer Garden exhibit. Comfort Inn and Barrel Pizza created discounts for visitors who mention Mumford & Sons. Cottage North Soapworks made I Will Wash soap bars with moustaches. Norfolk County Council approved gateway signage as a tribute to Rick in the rural area where he grew up.

Our local newspaper, the Simcoe Reformer, stepped up and secured free tickets for Mumford & Sons from our friends at Live Nation. To win the tickets, visitors must travel the route and take a photo of themselves along the way. We will post the photos on our social media networks.

Yes, it is an experiment. However, we couldn’t pass up the chance to try to promote our heritage when such a wonderful opportunity appeared out of the blue.

We will see if it works. If it does succeed, we couldn’t have done it without the help of Mumford & Sons, Live Nation, our local partners and residents … and, of course, Rick Danko and the ghosts of the Norfolk County dance halls.

UPDATE

The Gentlemen of the Road Simcoe Stopover in Norfolk County was an undisputed success. It is estimated that the economic impact on the community was more than $10 million. CBC’s The National prepared a documentary about the event, called “The Mumford Effect“.  There were large increases in traffic to www.norfolktourism.ca leading up to the event, causing an overall 60% incremental increase in web visits for the year. Anecdotal evidence continues to highlight that visitors are returning to Norfolk County after visiting GOTR.

An extended interview with Mumford & Sons included encouraging words for Norfolk County by band members.

OTHER LINKS

Routes: Footsteps of Rock Legends ~ Footsteps of Mumford & Sons

Read the Simcoe Reformer article by Sarah Doktor.

Watch the Walk in the Footsteps of Rock Legends video.

News Release: Mumford & Sons wakes up Norfolk County’s rock ‘n roll soul

Article: Impact of Mumford & Sons in Norfolk News

Award: Collaboration with Mumford & Sons wins Economic Development award

Norfolk County Council: Final Summary of the Gentlemen of the Road Simcoe Stopover