On October 27, the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce hosted the 6th annual Niagara Economic Summit. Attended by 350 people at the White Oaks Conference Resort & Spa and covered live by 610 CKTB, the Summit is Niagara’s pre-eminent economic event and sets the annual agenda for the GNCC, the third-largest Chamber of Commerce in Ontario.
The first power talk was given by Dave Robitaille, a Niagara resident and the Director of Corporate Citizenship and Affairs at IBM Canada. Dave spoke about the importance of innovation and the fact that Canada is behind its peers as an innovator, and our urgent need to do better in order to be competitive on the global stage. A wide-ranging panel discussion afterwards touched on diverse topics such as the use of data, the education of our schoolchildren, the digitization of agriculture, robots, and disruptive innovation.
The second talk of the day featured Tracy Reynolds, the Executive Director of Multi-Industry Sectors at Global Affairs Canada. A show-of-hands from the assembled business leaders highlighted Tracy’s initial point: Canada and Niagara are over-reliant on trade with the United States, neglecting other markets and leading to the current agitation over the future of NAFTA.
His talk, however, was optimistic, and touched on the many ways in which Niagara and Canada could build both an effective brand and a viable export network European and Asian markets. The panel that followed continued on this theme, shedding light on barriers to trade such as the dangers of the thickening border and the lack of incentives to offer businesses compared to those in the United States, but also showcasing Niagara’s opportunities waiting in largely-unconsidered foreign markets.
The final talk of the day looked to the far future, and for this the GNCC brought Len Diplock, Senior Vice-President of Strategy and Corporate Marketing at Canada Post. Representing a 250-year-old organization, Len spoke about the challenges that Canada Post had overcome in its long history, but then pivoted to the ways in which we need to change if we are to adapt to the future. We cannot build home-grown systems that adapt fast enough, he said; we need to get out of our silos and build ecosystems, and we need to collaborate intensively and build the future with our partners.
The panel that followed spoke to Niagara’s long-term opportunities. In the long-term, for instance, life expectancy will continue to increase and we will have more senior citizens with more leisure time – how can Niagara, already a popular retirement destination, get ready to build prosperity from that trend? How will we educate students in the future? What will society and community look like?
The overwhelming message that emerged from the Summit was the need for cooperation. We cannot move into the future alone. We need to build better trading partnerships. We need to embrace diversity to drive innovation. We must strengthen the partnerships we have, and build new ones.
The GNCC has already identified a number of key initiatives that we will work on from the Summit. At a broad level, we intend to work on the need for cooperation by convening more alliances and partnerships between business and government at all levels. We intend to move forward with more structured relationships to encourage greater multi-sectoral cooperation within Niagara.
We intend to research options for better connectivity, such as thinning the U.S. border, a mid-peninsula corridor, and identifying products we need to export and the markets we want to target so that we can tailor our strategy accordingly. We will continue to work with Brock University and Niagara College to assist with their efforts in cross-disciplinary education and making experiential learning with employers a part of their programs, which was identified as being so important at the Summit.
Above all, the Summit highlighted the need for conveners so that we can build the interconnected economic ecosystem Niagara needs to be competitive in the 21st century. The GNCC is determined to fill that role and to continue to collaborate with others to be a vital link between business and government that builds prosperity for Niagara.
For more information, please contact:
Mishka Balsom, President & CEO of GNCC
Mishka@gncc.ca or 905-684-2361