Creating an innovative economy can only happen if four key pillars are adopted that will allow municipal growth to happen in new ways, the city manager of Lethbridge, Alta. said this week.
In a keynote speech at Technicity West, a virtual information forum designed for municipal decision-makers, private sector IT influencers and digital entrepreneurs involved in the public sector space, Lloyd Brierley stressed that “yesterday’s thinking, tools, processes and mindsets will not be sufficient in addressing tomorrow’s challenges.”
The first pillar revolves around building an economy that is not tied to specific industry sectors, he said, but is based on diversification.
In Western Canada, said Brierley, “we are more diverse than we have been in the past, but natural resources and agriculture still hold a large share of our economy. In fact, Alberta and Saskatchewan’s growth is three times more volatile than the average for all provinces, largely due to our dependence on commodities.
“Now is the time to diversify industries and build a more resilient economy. When innovative industries grow, our Western families and communities thrive, not just survive.”
He pointed out that innovative industries alone are not the panacea, “for we also need to apply all types of innovation – incremental, adjacent disruptive, and radical – to our traditional industries. An example of this multi-pronged approach is the Digital Technology Supercluster, based in Vancouver, where partners are working together to apply digital solutions for some of the most pressing challenges in the resource, healthcare and manufacturing sectors.”
Another example, he said, is the Prairies-based Protein Industry Supercluster, where partners are “unlocking agri-food innovation and working together to add value to our primary crops and producers. This is truly tapping into a growing global demand for quality food products.
“Both are good examples of a diversified approach to building a broader economy that will assist in not just developing a resilient economy, but one that thrives in the difficult boom-and-bust cycles.”
He added “this brings us to the second pillar of growth – trade and seizing global opportunities. We must do more to strengthen our economy, and that means global trade is vital. Canada’s agri-food sector scrolls across the domestic economy, accounting for almost seven per cent of the C$135 billion gross domestic product, while employing one million Canadians.”
In 2021, said Brierley, Canada sold C$82 billion in agriculture products globally, making it the world’s fifth largest exporter.
Drilling down regionally, he said that Western Canada is “well positioned to take advantage of growing global opportunities through an already existing gateway to Asia’s rapidly expanding markets.
“To capitalize on these opportunities, we need to apply a focused effort to enhance ways to move products and services to global markets. This includes the development of infrastructure, but not just roads, rails and pipelines – digital infrastructure is key to improving the agri-food pipeline.
“Partners, including internet service providers and community broadband suppliers, must expand traditional networks while developing data analytics tools aimed at growth operators and regions that lack adequate digital infrastructure.”
The third pillar of growth revolves around having the required talent with the correct skill sets. Many steps must be taken, said Brierley, to “attract and retain digital talent in our communities to prevent the risk of brain drain, where one is at risk of exporting its most valuable resources – our highly-skilled workforce and our post-secondary graduates and young entrepreneurs.”
The fourth and final pillar focuses on developing municipalities that are not only connected, but dedicated to innovation and growth.
“A combination of beautiful natural landscapes and opportunities make the West an appealing place to live, work and play,” said Brierley. “Digital talent entrepreneurs, innovation industries and their families are looking for vibrant communities to call home.
“In fact, eight out of 10 fastest growing cities are in the West. As they grow, digital infrastructure and services are needed. Midsize cities such as Lethbridge are growing proof innovation also happens outside of larger centres.”
Finally, municipalities must do the same things that different industries have done to remain competitive, he said: “Competition in the for-profit industry has been a driving factor for innovation and many of those who failed to do so are a shadow of their past or only exist in our memories. Just consider Kodak or Blockbuster Video for example.
“Instead consider Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and Google as digital native examples that understand innovation and define digital experience for their customers.
“Paths followed by these industries produce something in government that we are constantly desiring – innovation. Moving forward, the challenge we face as government is how we will follow this path and become a catalyst for innovation to provide effective service order – the ability to do more with less, all while adjusting to the constantly changing needs of our customers and citizens.”