I've had some mixed emotions about Mayor Watson's time in office so far; there are some things that rub me the wrong way, but there are other things I'm pretty excited about. One of those things is economic development. I've read the strategy and it has some very good ideas, and I like what little I've heard so far from Saad Bashir, the city's economic development manager. If the City could deliver on key initiatives outlined in the strategy I think Ottawa would be in a much better place.
So far our mayor has delivered on one of the major parts of the strategy, Invest Ottawa. Although I think some of the communications are subpar, the agency looks like a step in the right direction. They've hired some experienced leaders to fill some key positions including Film, Television and Digital Media Commissioner, Managing Director of Innovation, and Managing Director of Investment and Trade.
The next economic development initiative the mayor is trying to implement is the Greater Ottawa Business Improvement Area, also known as GOBIA; a type of umbrella organization for the city's 17 business improvement areas.
I actually like this idea. I'm in favour of just about anything that will give the private sector a greater voice in a city dominated by the public sector. I think GOBIA has an opportunity to provide a more unified voice to the business community that truly represents Ottawa's very distinct communities. The chambers of commerce surely aren't doing it. I also think a group like GOBIA could really play a role in advocating for better transit infrastructure, especially in future phases of the LRT project. If anyone could have sway with council, it would be a group like GOBIA. Lastly, with the federal government cutting jobs in the public service this is the time for the private sector to step up to the plate and take the lead in growing the local economy.
Unfortunately, this idea is getting the same reaction as another idea in the economic development strategy- unifying the chambers of commerce.
The Ottawa Citizen has noted two main reasons for opposition to the idea:
"Some are worried they will have to give up some of their limited budgets to fund the larger organization. Others believe businesses would lose a voice that fights on their behalf if they are forced to go along with whatever the larger organization decides on key issues."
Similar to the chambers of commerce, some BIAs are worried their own interests may be compromised by forming a larger organization which is a viable concern.
It's like a marriage where some people are afraid of losing their individuality when getting hitched with someone else to form a larger unit. One remedy is a change in perspective from what you feel you may lose to what you may gain from the new union.
At the end of the day, if the BIAs continue to oppose GOBIA I would be disappointed. Looking at this situation in isolation there's no reason to be let down, but considering the chambers of commerce also have no appetite for unification, I question whether our city can really maximize its economic potential without cooperation from our business organizations.