A new economic strategy aims to drive growth in Halifax
Of mice and menBy Paul Kent | May 6, 2011
Best laid plans, Robbie Burns and how to stick to an economic strategy.
Have you ever noticed the elegant statue of the Scottish poet Robbie Burns that stands proudly if somewhat anonymously across from the Public Gardens on Spring Garden Road? (What’s this got to do with economic development you may well be asking? Stick with me. There’s a point to this.)
I walked by the monument recently and had one of those strange moments in which seemingly unrelated things collide and create a satisfying connection in your brain. I had been thinking about our city’s renewed economic strategy—A Greater Halifax. I’ve thought of little else for the last 12 months. It’s been a huge undertaking with two down-to-earth goals: help build better lives for the people who live and work in our city and make our city a place where even more people want to live and work. Halifax Regional Council has endorsed the plan and now we have to get on with it.
But back to Mr. Burns.
As I wandered by, my train of thought shifted from the arguably unexciting matter of economic development to an oft-quoted line from his poem “To a Mouse,” on turning up her nest with a plough. The line was written in 1785 and the standard English translation goes “The best laid schemes of mice and men, go often askew.” More than 300 years on, a paraphrase of the original lives on as “The best laid plans of mice and men …”
This was a timely reminder that even the most thorough, well-intentioned and reasoned approach to a challenge can come to nothing without constant attention and diligence.
At the Greater Halifax Partnership, we believe that cities that grow and provide prosperity for their people do so because they have a clear vision of their economic goals and how they will be achieved. We have a clear vision and our strategy will see us through to 2016 and beyond. Our best laid scheme will not go askew. And that’s for a number of reasons.
First, we took a hard look at what worked and what didn’t with the previous strategy. Then we asked, what will make this strategy truly remarkable? What will make it succeed? The answer is alignment. It’s the special ingredient that has brought all three levels of government, business, post-secondary, not-for-profit and the wider community together to develop a shared vision and strategy for the future of our extraordinary city and region. It’s the catalyst that will take Halifax from good to great.
Governments often develop economic strategies in isolation. But in this case, the Greater Halifax Partnership led a comprehensive review and renewal process it worked closely with the Halifax Chamber of Commerce. HRM, the Mayor’s Economic Advisory Committee and other government, business and community leaders, Nova Scotia Business Inc., ACOA and Nova Scotia Department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism.
But what’s truly remarkable is the engagement we had from all sectors of our city and the tremendous support of the business community. In all, more than 330 people volunteered over 3,000 hours towards the development of A Greater Halifax. They volunteered their valuable time to attend numerous meetings and consultations, and participate on action planning teams. And many of the same tireless and committed people now say they want to help put the plan in place. So this is truly an economic strategy for the community and by the community.
We are developing our action teams that are structured around each of the five goal areas. Each team will determine what it needs to do and how to do it. One of our innovations this time around is how we track our results—how we ensure things don’t go askew. Our chief economist, Fred Morley, has come up with an excellent approach that we are calling The Halifax Index. This index will tell the story of our economic progress, replacing the current economic scorecard.
We’re modelling The Halifax Index on community indices used in other successful communities. It will measure the strength and pace of our economic growth, the overall economic health of our community, how sustainable our growth is as well as social and quality-of-life indicators that go beyond facts and figures.
With this, we will be able to effectively measure what we achieve. This will include using these regular progress reports to identify the things that work best, allowing us to create a blueprint for action. It will even include ways for key people to provide an old-fashioned gut check on progress.
There is a lot of work to do. Halifax is a city which has untapped potential as the hub—or driving force—for the economy of the province and the entire region. Together, we’ll ensure this best laid plan delivers.