So what’s the plan?

In a new six-part se­ries, one of the city’s lead­ing eco­nomic ob­servers takes a closer look at the ma­jor is­sues fac­ing business in the cap­i­tal

Ottawa Business Journal - - FRONT PAGE - Jef­frey Dale is the di­rec­tor and co-founder of the Odawa Group as well as the for­mer pres­i­dent of the Ot­tawa Cen­tre for Re­search and In­no­va­tion.

That’s the ques­tion for­mer OCRI boss Jef­frey Dale will ask about the lo­cal econ­omy in a new OBJ se­ries.

Afew months ago, I wrote an opin­ion piece in OBJ about how the Ot­tawa econ­omy isn’t what it used to be. I re­ceived many com­ments from friends and read­ers, some dis­agree­ing with me, but most ac­knowl­edg­ing that our econ­omy is not as ro­bust as it was five to 10 years ago.

Many think this is just a nor­mal eco­nomic cy­cle. How­ever, some ob­servers, in­clud­ing me, think we are see­ing a struc­tural shift in our eco­nomic base.

Since I wrote that ar­ti­cle, a few other news sto­ries re­lated to this is­sue have caught my at­ten­tion, in­clud­ing Air Canada’s decision to can­cel its daily flight from Ot­tawa to Frankfurt in the win­ter months and Holt Ren­frew’s an­nounce­ment that it will close its Ot­tawa lo­ca­tion, which has been in business for more than 75 years, early in 2015.

While th­ese two events might not seem all that sig­nif­i­cant at first glance, their un­der­ly­ing causes are.

Air Canada is not see­ing the business pas­sen­ger vol­ume it has in the past for the Frankfurt flight and Holt Ren­frew is not see­ing sales growth. Both the transat­lantic flight and Holt Ren­frew, a high-end re­tailer, rely on wealthy con­sumers, vi­brant busi­nesses and a fed­eral gov­ern­ment that is more fo­cused on gen­er­at­ing pros­per­ity than on cut­ting spend­ing.

OBJ has in­vited me to write some ad­di­tional opin­ion pieces on the Ot­tawa econ­omy, in­clud­ing the chal­lenges it faces, the pos­si­ble causes of its cur­rent woes and po­ten­tial ac­tions the business com­mu­nity and gov­ern­ment can take to se­cure the re­gion’s eco­nomic pros­per­ity for the next gen­er­a­tion.

The best method of un­der­stand­ing our cur­rent eco­nomic con­di­tion is to talk to var­i­ous lead­ers in our com­mu­nity in an ef­fort to look at the is­sues from mul­ti­ple per­spec­tives. Over the next six months, I will be shar­ing my dis­cus­sions and of­fer­ing my opin­ions on the fol­low­ing top­ics:

THE FED­ERAL GOV­ERN­MENT’S IM­PACT ON THE OT­TAWA ECON­OMY

Fed­eral spend­ing cuts and down­siz­ing have hit our city hard. The last time some­thing sim­i­lar hap­pened in the early 1990s, our en­tire com­mu­nity ral­lied to min­i­mize the im­pact on our econ­omy. How are we re­act­ing this time?

THE CHANG­ING NA­TURE OF HIGHTECH COM­PA­NIES IN THE CAP­I­TAL

Are our lo­cal com­pa­nies fo­cused on growth or sur­vival? Many of our large home­grown tech firms have been sold to multi­na­tional cor­po­ra­tions. Con­se­quently, up­per man­age­ment and its decision-mak­ing power have been trans­ferred else­where. How has this af­fected our econ­omy?

Clearly, Ot­tawa still has a vi­brant startup com­mu­nity with lots of support from or­ga­ni­za­tions such as Startup Canada, Invest Ot­tawa and var­i­ous in­cu­ba­tors and ac­cel­er­a­tors. How­ever, my dis­cus­sion will fo­cus on the com­pa­nies that are beyond the startup phase and are now fo­cused on in­ter­na­tional growth.

A WORK­FORCE AT A CROSS­ROADS

This city has one of the most highly ed­u­cated work­forces in the world. How­ever, do those work­ers have the skills and ex­pe­ri­ence that em­ploy­ers are look­ing for to­day? We also have a large num­ber of peo­ple who are cur­rently un­der­em­ployed be­cause of the hol­low­ing out of the se­nior man­age­ment ranks at our tech com­pa­nies. Is the next gen­er­a­tion of growth com­pa­nies tak­ing ad­van­tage of th­ese skilled hu­man re­sources?

THE FI­NAN­CIAL CRUNCH FAC­ING SMALL BUSINESS

Do our busi­nesses have ac­cess to the fi­nan­cial re­sources nec­es­sary to fuel their growth? Home­own­ers can quite eas­ily get a mort­gage at 2.99 per cent, but lo­cal business own­ers are find­ing it in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to se­cure com­mer­cial fi­nanc­ing. Canada’s fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions tend to be very risk-averse. Is this con­tribut­ing to lo­cal com­pa­nies not be­ing able to ex­pand?

LESSONS FROM LO­CAL SUC­CESS STO­RIES

My last ar­ti­cle will fo­cus on lo­cal com­pa­nies that are grow­ing. What are th­ese com­pa­nies and why are they thriv­ing? Does their suc­cess of­fer lessons for other en­trepreneurs?

My ob­jec­tive in th­ese ar­ti­cles is to gen­er­ate a di­a­logue with you, the read­ers, and to en­cour­age our com­mu­nity lead­ers to take ac­tion to col­lec­tively ad­dress our city’s eco­nomic chal­lenges. I en­cour­age you to get en­gaged and add your voice to the dis­cus­sion through com­ments and con­ver­sa­tions with your friends and col­leagues.

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