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 scaledown.ca’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.