Economic Developers Alberta Conference

EDA_Conference_983632013
Ideas, Innovation and Inspiration

Each year the Economic Developers Alberta (EDA) coordinates a three-day conference designed to bring together economic developers in order to enhance the province’s economic development profession by providing effective training, communication and networking opportunities. Those who’ve attended in the past say it’s an excellent opportunity to network and share ideas.

Membership within the EDA is very diversified and includes: municipalities, towns, cities, regions, tourism organizations, financial institutions, Crown Corporations; Regional Economic Development Authorities; Community Futures Development Corporations; federal, provincial, regional and municipal government agencies; students; NGO’s; and a number of other groups and individuals that are either involved with or interested in economic development.

A number of seminar presentations are made during this annual professional conference and AGM, held for the fourth year in a row at Delta Kananaskis Lodge from April 10-12. Previously the conference would move around the province and was held in places such as Jasper and Leduc but a decision was made several years ago that a consistency should be implemented for what is the major fundraiser of the year and Kananaskis was the chosen location.

EDA Executive Director Leann Hackman-Carty is responsible for putting together this much anticipated, well-attended event. The organization will be celebrating its 40th anniversary next year. This year’s convention theme is “Ideas, Innovation and Inspiration”.

Hackman-Carty says it’s a wide cross section of business leaders who attend the event.

“We have a mixed group that comes,” she confirms. “Obviously people whose job entails economic development in some way; so they may be employed by a municipality, a region, a community futures organization – those kinds of roles that would come.”

There are also consultants doing specific work for various groups whether they’re helping them develop economic strategies or business investment attraction plans or industry cluster development.

“Last year we had a record number of elected officials come because we specifically targeted them, knowing that many of them are tasked with leading economic development in some way in their community,” Hackman-Carty continues.

Many of these people set budgets, but some may not have a true understanding of what economic development encompasses, and that’s why the EDA wants to get them involved – to help them understand strong economic development and being able to accurately identify the preferential tactics and strategies to design, implement and follow.

“I would assume we’ll get the same level of elected officials, or more, this year,” Hackman-Carty predicts.

There’s no doubt that employees within this realm see the three-day conference as being hugely beneficial for many of the reasons already mentioned.

Hackman-Carty is very pleased with the reception the EDA’s conference has received from the business community. The EDA is expecting a delegation in the neighbourhood of 300 attending this year’s conference.

“It’s very well received,” she confirms.  “Even when we look at other conferences, they make this the one they’re going to be at. If they have limited budgets, they make this a priority and I think it’s twofold. I believe No. 1 is definitely the nature and level of the types of speakers and training opportunities that take place and then there’s the networking.”

For those unfamiliar with the Delta Kananaskis and surrounding area, once at the conference, you’re essentially held hostage – but in a good way, as Hartman-Carty laughs.  There’s really nowhere else to go, so it somewhat forces people to engage one another and interact, which is exactly the point of putting on such a big event. It promotes networking from early in the morning until late at night.

“We’ve had really good evaluations over the years saying ‘keep it up’ and ‘don’t change anything’ and I know that year after year we see the same people coming back,” Hackman-Carty says. “This year, I don’t know if I’m surprised, but there are a larger percentage of non-members signing up for the conference, so I find that interesting.”

One of the primary highlights of the event is the keynote speakers and panelists who engage with the audience. This year it’s expected there will be a total of 28 on hand to share their knowledge with attendees.

“Our opening speaker is very well known in the U.S. – Roger Brooks,” Hackman-Carty reveals. “He has done a ton of work on communities, branding, tourism and destination marketing. Ken Chapman is in charge of the Oil Sands Developers Group. He’s basically responsible for sustainable oil sands development.”
Another notable address will come from the executive vice president of the Alberta Treasury Branch, Wellington Holbrook.

Because economic development covers a very wide range of possibilities, the EDA tries to focus on an all-encompassing specific theme each year, which is no doubt hard to accomplish with the event opening on Wednesday at 1 pm and having all day Thursday and then shutting down at 10:30 am on Friday. What you’d like to have, and what’s realistic to cover means that preparation is the key to success. The organization does provide a member survey, which assists in planning for the following years’ events and the theme for 2014 has already been selected.

“That kind of shapes the global level,” Hackman-Carty states. “After that, we try and do streams where it’s more of an individual, personal development side so that’s where the leadership comes and facilitation so how can you as a person develop your skill set; whether there’s a trend, such as oil sands related or maybe it’s technology related or agriculture. It really depends on the overarching theme but also what is of interest to our members.”

This is the second year for Talisman Energy being onboard as a platinum sponsor for the EDA conference and as Hackman-Carty points out, they’ve been very helpful in molding the event.

“This was their suggestion and I think is a neat concept – basing it somewhat on The Dragons’ Den concept – they said their community stakeholder investment area gets a lot of projects pitched to them and they’re wanting to increase the level of sophistication of some of those pitches. They are running a specific interactive session. So if your community wants a project, what is the type of research you need to do in advance and the messaging you need to prepare? How do you make your pitch if you are going in to Talisman. That will be an interesting session – I’m looking forward to that.”

Community Economic Development Training Program

For more than a decade, Economic Developers Alberta has run CEDTP that comes with seven modules. A community will sign up to host one of these modules.

So for example, they may want to run the establishing a foundation course, the basic economic development 101. The community books it, EDA sends out a trainer with up to 20 people in the community participating and it could be the mayor, the chamber president or any number of possible options.

“Our trainer runs them through a one-day seminar, kind of interactive and in the end we send out a certificate if they complete it. We’re now dovetailing that into a certificate program at the University of Calgary so those courses can also be applied towards credit for a professional management certificate in economic developers, so that’s the nature of that type of training.”

As for the various modules, there are basic, business retention and expansion, the latter of which addresses how to grow an existing entity. There’s also business investment attraction which centres more upon bringing in outside funding and marketing around that aspect in an effort to attract new companies to a community. Additionally, there are also project management and project opportunity modules.

Scholarship Program

Each year, scholarships are awarded to EDA members in good standing in order to further ones continued education in the field of economic development. The scholarship must be used for educational programs/courses approved by the EDA Board. Currently, the Economic Developers Certificate is taken at the University of Calgary and the University of Waterloo training programs for the scholarships. Scholarship applications are available on the EDA website: www.edaalberta.ca.

“At the conference we have a silent auction and we raise money for the scholarship program,” Hackman-Carty tells us. “We apply to the federal government for Invest Canada-Community Initiatives (ICCI) dollars. If you take approved economic development training that falls under what we consider legitimate and you submit your receipts for tuition, accommodation, travel and all that kind of stuff, then we can reimburse up to 50 per cent plus we top it up with our EDA Scholarship Fund.”

All this encourages members to take advanced training in their profession and helps those in areas where money may not be as available where additional training is concerned.

2012 Scholarship Recipients

Kelly Harris-Martin, Community Futures Tawatinaw Region
Angie Spence, Brazeau County
Michelle Levasseur, Town of Devon
Jennifer Moore, Smoky River Regional Economic Development
Sandra Badry, Red Deer County
Katlin Pegg, Lloydminster Economic Development Corp.
Genevieve Couchie, Town of Redwater
Mary Lee Prior, Town of Vermilion
Helen Kelleher-Empey, Grande Alberta Economic Development
Wanda Compton, Brazeau County
Michael Liu, Strathcona County Economic Development
Jodie Pruden, Athabasca County
Joanne Trudeau, Lac Cardinal Economic Development
Lorraine White, Louis Bull Tribe
Leona Esau, City of Airdrie

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