Friday, February 1, 2008

Of Mice and Men

If I ever was remembered for being a blogger, this would be the post I would want to be remembered for...

A couple of days ago, I attended a seminar delivered by Matt Fischer, CEO of the Windsor-Essex County Development Commission. I came away with the understanding that the Development Commission’s primary focus was that of identifying and supporting the 3% of businesses, described as Gazelles, that account for 54% of the job growth in our community.

Mr. Fischer also elaborated on one of the Development Commission’s secondary (and substantially less funded) goals of supporting businesses that he referred to as Mice. Mice were described as new independent local small businesses which presently and in the future will account for 44% of new job growth. The Development Commission acknowledged that while there focus is on the Gazelles, they will attempt to offer support to the “Mice”.

I wholeheartedly support the Development Commission’s business strategy of focusing scarce and limited resources on what it has identified as its primary objective - that of identifying and supporting Gazelles. However, there appears to be a discord between the Development Commission’s acknowledgment of the significance of Mice and the actions of our City leaders.

In 1995, I co-founded Bedroom Depot, a furniture retailer that had overcome the challenges that realize the failure of 70% of Mice within the first three years. The greatest obstacle that I encountered was the inability to locate in suburban neighbourhoods due to the fact that the Big Box Power Center Developments refused to accept my lease offers until I demonstrated the success of two retail stores with a financial history in excess of two consecutive years.

If we want to encourage Mice we need to provide them with locations that are in close proximity to their customer base. Herein lays the disconnect. Matt Fischers’ response was that “Main Street” provided this location, or what you would call an atmosphere of “Incubation” to Mice.

When I invested in Chanoso's restaurant, I realized the only way to ensure a long term investment was downtown. I always hold true to the fact that I am not a downtown promoter due to the location of my business; I located my business downtown as that is where I felt the future of Windsor lies.

My question to our city leaders is: “Since we know that the population of these “Main Streets” or BIA’s has declined by 10%, how do we expect to foster Mice when we do not create an environment in which they can successfully operate?”

How do we approve unattractive, unwalkable, anti-Mice developments while at the same time putting the Community Improvement Plans on hold? Implementing Community Improvement Plans is the best way in which to reverse the decline of the “Main Street” environments.

Mr. Fischer’s response was that these were valid concerns that should be addressed in the City’s Official Plan. I’ve called 311 to express these concerns. What I ask is whether Matt Fischer has provided his input into our official plan? If the Development Commission cannot find the funds to support Mice, can it at least take a stand and place a call to 311 to express its support of the City’s Official Plan policies that would provide an environment in which Mice could thrive.

I also call on the members of the Windsor & District Chamber of Commerce to call 311 to express their support of policies that would help the Mice in our community. It would be in all of our interests and most prudent, if the City’s Community Improvement Plans were taken off the shelf and put into action.

As a post script, I want to note that it was at the Development Commission’s Challenges of Change Summit that Richard Florida said that the attractiveness of a city was the number one determinant to attracting and retaining the creative class.
It is Chris Leinberger from the Brookings Institute who has substantiated proof of the real estate value and the economic development benefits of walkable neighbourhoods.

When will the Chamber of Commerce and Development Commission begin echoing’s call for attractive, walkable mixed use developments that foster the local independent small businesses which they everyone acknowledges will be responsible for the creation of 44% of all new job growth in Windsor.


edy haddad said...

All the Mice should come Downtown.. Make it home,
maybe that way, all the rats will go away.

Chris Holt said...

Which brings up right back to strengthening our downtown to facilitate the gestation of the businesses that create 44% of all new jobs in this country.

Many people (and the proof of this was the violent anti-downtown attitude displayed by the "Sound Off" commentors on the Star's article about the proposed Universities downtown move) still have yet to make the connection between the health of their downtown core and the economic outlook for their city as a whole. This is a connection that must be made if the business case Mark is presenting is to bear fruit.

Not only does a vibrant and healthy downtown make our city much more interesting and fun, but it is also a predeterminent to a healthy overall economy.

There is no reason to put off development incentives (Dave and Mark - time to chime in again as you are more knowledgable about this than I am!) that make downtown more attractive to the Mice than the suburbs.

Mark Boscariol said...

Chris, as you know, my desire to take the leap from DWBIA to Scaledown is because this is not just about Downtown anymore, its about the core.

The "mainstreet" that is referred to by Matt Fischer and I is not only Ouellette. The "Mainstreet" that "mice" need can be Erie Street, Ottawa Street, Sandwich street, Wyandotte in Walkerville or Wyandatte town Center. There are dozens of "mainstreets" in Windsor, its just that none of them happen to be located in the suburbs, lasalle or Tecumseh.

Its about the entire core and the Planning Department report "Smart Choices" referrs to this when it recommends new development be focused around all of these clusters

P.S. Tecumseh long ago abandoned development around its' natural mainstreet that exists on Tecumseh at Lesperance for the unwalkable development at Manning Road. The "Mice" there only exist buried in the back of the plaza's while prime locations are reserved only for the national chains.

Had incentives been given to intensify the area around Tecumseh and Lesperance. Had leaders reinvested in infrastructure and mixed use residential that could have been a huge draw.

Andrew said...

Does that really surprise you at all? Guys like Fischer have visions of landing a Toyota plant that will employ thousands and being hailed as a saviour.

They truly can't see the forest for the trees.

Mark Boscariol said...

Its not that I want the development commission to fund the "Mice"

ITs that I want them and the Chamber of Commerce to publicly endorse policies that they know will support "Mice"

Its that I want the Development Commission and the Chamber of Commerce to Publicly oppose policies that they know will hurt "Mice"

Those policies include building walkable, attractive, mixed use developments and preventing development that will hurt our economy in the future.

Hey, I like going to a good Chamber breakfast or luncheon as much as the next guy. Good food, interesting speakers and all that. I just would like to see them address these important issues.

If they disagree, fine, at least a debate can ensue of which I'm confident of my position

Also, Where does Dr. Alfie Morgan stand on these issues?

Tracy said...

A couple of small things just to clear up...

First - it's not that the Development Commission does not support "Mice". In fact, the Small Business Enterprise Center which is funded by the Development Commission (50%) and is tied tightly with resources, systems, accounting, reporting, etc. currently services that important piece of our economic fabric by working with upwards of 50 people a month, every month, on their small business ideas be them existing business (less than 5 employees and under 3 years old) or new business ideas. In fact, the SBEC is hosting 2 seminars monthly, one in the city and one in the county, with topics important to small business owners - Mice.

Secondly, Fischer is the first one to tell you that he's not looking for another large production plant, a Toyota, to come in and save the day. In fact he was the one who presented the numbers which Mark correctly writes about - the importance of supporting our existing businesses that are growth industries (the gazelles) and finding ways to encourage the small business start-ups (the mice). The Development Commission with limited resources is trying to satisfy both of these mandates. While the efforts in these matters are not always publicized (mostly at the request of the client) they are happening.

As for supporting policies and preventing development that will hurt our economy - the commission, chamber or other organized body has no more weight than the average WindsorEssex resident. The truth is that as a society, as a region, we must make our voices heard and speak out. We must be involved in the 3-1-1 campaign, write to our MPs or MPPs or local mayors and insist that they take that message forward. 8 people at a development commission, or 5 people at a chamber of commerce (forgive me if I haven't quoted employment figures correctly as I don't know them) can't make all the difference.

Mark I love the idea of the blog, the positivity and the ideas that are kicked around. I just hope that you and your colleagues can spur WindsorEssex residents to be proactive and make their voices heard about what they want instead of remaining in the relatively quiet and dark background. Perhaps it's understanding that is lacking, perhaps it's the idea that public officials should be doing what we want anyway. And yes, they should. But until we are able as a group to make enough noise that our 'leaders' have to listen - it's not enough to point fingers and grumble about what's happened in the past or what appears to be happening now. We have to organize ourselves and be proactive. And Mark, you guys are doing a great job of cheering that on!

Chris Holt said...

Tracy - Thank you so much for expanding on exactly what the commission does in the city and your roles in helping small, independant business' achieve success. That is what we all want in the end. We welcome any and all insight that you have to offer the readers of SD that will help us better understand this complicated environment in which we all participate.

I would challenge your statement that the development commission and the chamber of commerce has little-to-no more power than the average resident when it comes to recommendations about harmful policies put forward by our city, however.

For example, Scaledown made a Well-researched and well-presented delivery of the affects of big-box retail when council was deciding to change the zoning by-law to allow the development of the big-box power centre on the far west side. Despite the fact that we raised some very good points with regards to the economic outlook for a community who supported big-box development and its impact on local independent businesses (we were only asking that council examine our findings before granting approval) they decided to go ahead and grant the zoning change. We feel that if the development commission or the chamber of commerce were to voice their concerns about issues such as these as well, our collective arguments would carry more weight.

We all live in the same community, breathe the same air and drive on the same roads. Nobody is exempt from the results of bad planning or economic decisions. We want to work with anybody and everybody willing to examine the ways in which we are conducting business and come to solutions that benefit everyone in this community.

Mark Boscariol said...

I couldn't have said it better than Chris.

The Chamber made a presentation before the industrial property tax cut. The Small business task force also made a prestentation. The result was that the 1% of the tax cut was given to the commercial bldgs.

The Chamber of Commerce has a policy committee. I just want to give it a nudge in the right direction on this particular issue

But more important the Development Commission has a voice. As I said before, the issue here is not any sort of criticism of "Mice" Funding. I respect and applaud the work of the Development commission. I am confident that the strategy and budget it has laid out is the best possible one.

The issue whether the Development commission can contribute to policy? I respectfully disagree pretty strongly with any assertion that a board made up of the most respected individuals in all of Essex County; commission administrated by a group of most informed and educated group of staff and leadership in Essex County carries no more weight than you and I at a council meeting.