26 March 2014

Toronto Region Board of Trade on a resilient regional economy

The Toronto Region Board of Trade hosted Roger Martin of the Institute for Competitiveness & Prosperity on Monday to speak to a new report they have released called Toward a Toronto Region Economic Strategy. The report follows on the important work on clusters TRBOT has been sponsoring over the past few years and the most recent Scorecard on Prosperity (2014), and features an in depth analysis of the sate of the Greater Toronto Area economy, the inputs that make it function, the clusters that dominate the socio-economic landscape, and what action is needed to spur growth. It is the call to action that are the main features here, as the Toronto Region is not performing well. As TRBOT CEO Carol Wilding and TRBOT Board Chair Beth Wilson state in their introduction, the report “leads to a framework for a regional economic strategy and examines where Toronto excels, faces challenges, and provides opportunities for consideration for the region not only to become more economically productive, but also to be a more livable and prosperous region.” In short, the story as it is is not that good. Toronto lags in many areas, and concerted action is needed to maximize the potential latent in the region.

It is good to see the report acknowledge the full spectrum of the post secondary landscape, from colleges, to polytechnics to universities, as being part of the Education and Knowledge Cluster. The other clusters – Financial Services (the single largest cluster by far), Information Technology, Processed Food, and Life Sciences – are all important drivers of the regional economy. Key here is finding ways for businesses to lead cluster development and refinement, and to spur industry to invest in the three pillars of economic development: new technology, training of employees, and R&D.

Certainly in the training and education aspects Toronto does well, with numerous leading universities, polytechnics and colleges in the Greater Toronto Area. On the R&D side, the report makes positive mention of the need to foster greater industry R&D spending, as well as increasing the capacity of education institutions to partner with firms on R&D activities. These kind of public-private partnerships for R&D (what I call P3RD) are important drivers not only of business innovation, but also of fostering broader innovation skills throughout the educational process, from undergraduate through to graduate.

The report calls for the creation of a higher education advocacy group for the Toronto area, building on the London, UK model, in support of the Education and Knowledge Cluster. This is a good i9dea, and builds on the increasing awareness of al PSE institutions in the region of the value of working together. More work is needed, and such an advocacy group will enable us to combine the best from each, recognize that each kind of institution – university, polytechnic, and college – all play important roles in supporting the entire range of workforce development. The same holds true for research, as both basic and applied research excellence is needed. This will foster greater academic productivity, as well as greater business innovation and productivity.

The report acknowledges the complementary role that colleges and polytechnics play in the education and R&D ecosystem. It also speaks about experiential learning, and the value this brings to all students from any educational context. This is a signal opportunity to invest in the teaching of innovation and entrepreneurship skills commensurate with fostering academic inventions and commercialization together with business innovation.

The Processed Food cluster represents a key area that I’ve been active in for the past couple of years, all in support of the TRBOT’s efforts to foster greater competitiveness and growth in this important sector of the economy. The Food Innovation Research Studio (FIRSt) is a key applied research centre of excellence at GBC, and the applied R&D we conduct with local firms combined with our leading educational programs makes us a key stakeholder in this area. There is good work going on here by many people; watch this space for updates in the future.

The report is a must read for anyone interested in the long-term health of the GTA. It has important data on what is working and why, and equally important information as to what actions are required to enable Toronto to realize its full potential. It is a highly credible and reliable source of information and insights that forms a key fulcrum of the TRBOT “Think Twice, Vote Once – Decision 2014: campaign. Kudos to the TRBOT, the Martin Prosperity Institute, and KPMG for producing this important work. It should be circulated – and read – widely.

No comments: