MDB Insight Blog

Wanted: Meaningful Intel for Economic Development

Wanted: Meaningful Intel for Economic Development

In this week’s #WednesdayswithMDBInsight post Lauren Millier, EVP shares thoughts about the need for meaningful, relevant, affordable data to support economic development efforts. Even before the emergence of COVID-19, I have been concerned that the economic development field isn’t doing enough to truly benefit from market intelligence related to the performance of our local economies in meaningful ways. The field is challenged in its ability to collect enough reliable and current local data to support the informed decisions necessary across a range of municipal issues – from labour force planning to technology integration and the economic impact of local businesses. As professionals we don’t have ready access to Statistics Canada data beyond the census release, or beyond what EMSI provides for those with access and even that has become challenging these days. The economic development community needs much more relevant, local data that is affordable and accessible if it is to make informed decisions on how best to support and enable economic growth. Now more than ever.

There, I’ve said it. So, what do we do about it?

Doing Together What We Can’t Do Alone 

First, I think we can form better partnerships to maximize the data we can access and make the most of its value. Workforce development boards come immediately to mind as a good example of potential partners equipped with data that can be truly meaningful in an economic development context. Others with good intelligence on business and labour force performance include several for profit and not for profit organizations – is our economic development community utilizing these to full advantage? From Magnet and the Brookfield Institute for Innovation to Vicinity Jobs, Manifold Data and the Conference Board of Canada, we have data sources with tremendous potential to inform economic development that I suspect could be better integrated for public sector purposes.  

I think there are additional partnership opportunities when economic developers look beyond historical sources, but it’s not quantity of data so much as relevance and utility that is important. To the extent that truly informative data is often not accessible (e.g. cost prohibitive, not local) this impedes the economic development agenda for many. Those of us who believe a rising tide does indeed lift all boats should be wary about access to data being inequitable in the context of public sector economic development. We are better served by a level playing field than one characterized by haves and have-nots.

Working regionally can also net valuable gains in both data collection and strategic storytelling based on data analysis. This is certainly true for smaller communities with limited resources, but some of Canada’s biggest urban economic development players are also pooling resources in this way (Toronto Global and Edmonton Global come to mind). These larger cities are also helping to champion Open Data and Smart Cities initiatives (see, for example, Local assets such as libraries and post-secondary institutions as well as shared approaches to utilization of Internet of Things data can add fuel to regional efforts, along with initiatives that tap private sector data sources along with government data from all levels.

Advocating for Enhanced Intel

The 17 recommendations made by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce in its recent publication The Great Mosaic: Reviving Ontario’s Regional Economies include “enhance the use of data”. The report also includes a chapter called “The Value of Good Information”. This raises the notion of confidence – what might an economic developer be inspired to pursue if armed with meaningful data that takes some of the guesswork out of the equation? Likewise, what investment decisions might be waiting in the wings only for a lack of transparent, specific data to inform a site location choice or business expansion?

News about “big data” is increasingly prevalent, yet it’s often the granular, local intel that offers the most value to a community’s economic development planning. Municipalities’ response to the impact of COVID-19 is evidence of this. Finding bridges between those with the capacity to collect this data and those seeking to apply it for community benefit is essential. Technological advancements will continue to propel us forward in the myriad applications for the data we have and will likely magnify the significance of the data we’re missing. 

To learn more about Lauren and the other members of our team, go to

Lauren photo 2019 cropped-2-1Our Wednesdays with MDB Insight posts feature the thinkers and doers on our team sharing ideas and talking about what’s important to us as professionals. We have very diverse backgrounds and a range of interests to share with you. We hope you’re enjoying these posts and that you will join the conversation with us and let us know what’s on your mind mid-week.

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