Innovations
September 28, 2014

A band of cities: Alliance opens avenues for investors

The Consider Canada City Alliance (CCCA) combines the strengths of 11 Canadian municipalities: Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa, Calgary, Quebec City, Winnipeg, London, Halifax, Saskatoon and the Waterloo region.

The economic development agencies of each municipality have banded together to bring their interests to the attention of foreign investors. The logic is that they are stronger as a team, and that they can direct investors to the city that will best meet their needs for setting up shop in the Great White North.

The Alliance began in 2007, when founder Bruce Graham brought the heads of several economic development agencies together, concurrent with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference that was being held in Calgary. At the time, Graham was not sure his plan would work; he knew there was much to gain by combining strengths, but he was unable to gauge the interest of heads of other municipalities.

“We learned that, in Ontario, there was a…technology corridor, which was a multi-city marketing effort, and it seemed to be working very effectively for them,” said Graham, referring to a marketing partnership between Waterloo, Toronto and Ottawa that was formed in 2003. “So we started to talk about having a pan-Canadian marketing effort, working collaboratively with the major cities.”

As it turned out, there was 100 percent participation from the other economic heads, and before long, the collection of municipalities came to be known as the C8. Since then, the group has been steadily recruiting members. In 2012, it was incorporated as the Consider Canada City Alliance, and it has been working with the federal government to carry out economic objectives in its 12 member cities.

The arrangement offers participating cities the ability to take advantage of opportunities they may not have received before. It also offers them the chance to learn something new about their fellow members.

“When we were in Asia, I learned a lot,” said Mike Darch, president of the Consider Canada City Alliance. “I learned some of the things that Saskatoon’s doing in the area of food and the development of specialized barley and hops for the Japanese beer industry – something I’d never even thought about.”

It’s just one example of the varied strengths that each municipality brings to the group, and how the Alliance can market Canada as an ideal place to invest in business.

For Paul Kent, head of the Greater Halifax Partnership, his city’s participation in the CCCA has been of great value for Halifax’s economic development.

“At a macro level, because we’re involved out of Halifax, we’re able to access conversations, dialogue, relationships that otherwise would be hard to reach,” said Kent. “On a micro level, the process that we’re following yields intelligence and leads on companies that we might want to talk to around the world. Our ability to understand who we should talk to in the vast world of global commerce is enhanced by our involvement in this program.”

Some might ask, however, why these 12 cities would decide to work together when the business world is brimming with such intense competition.

“There was a fundamental belief amongst us that a high tide floats all boats and the more effective we are collectively, the stronger we are individually,” said Graham. “We don’t compete with each other so much as we complement each other.”

Darch also offered a bit of perspective on the matter: at any given time, Tokyo hosts 160 different countries, each with a different mission. How can Canadian municipalities hope to have their voices heard with all that noise?

As a group, on the other hand, they come across as much more formidable and worthy of attention – especially with the backing of the Canadian government.

The CCCA has built relationships with several federal departments, chief among them the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development. Within that, it has worked closely with Invest in Canada, a bureau dedicated to attracting foreign business expansion in Canada. It’s an arrangement that is beneficial to both parties – the federal government can leverage the local strengths of each municipality, while providing the Alliance the muscle it needs to get noticed by potential investors.

“Canada has a much more recognizable brand than any of the cities do individually,” said Graham. “It lets us do our traveling and marketing under the Canadian banner. It’s also easier for the federal government to leverage what they do, and vice versa, in sealing trade deals. It’s hard for the federal government to work through all these individual cities; by collaborating, it’s a more effective and convenient vehicle for the federal government to deal with.”

The group is always on the lookout for new members and Graham says that, as the Alliance grows, there is potential for the group to include 17 or 18 cities. London is the most recent member – it joined in 2013 – and the group currently has invitations out in the Niagara region, including St. Catharines and Niagara Falls, and to the Greater Toronto Marketing Alliance.

Cities that want to join must meet specific criteria. Municipalities must have a population of at least 250,000, according to the Census Metropolitan Area (CMA), and the municipality must have its own established economic development agency. The municipality must also be interested in foreign investment attraction, and there are financial and participation commitments that must be adhered to.

“We will extend invitations,” said Graham, “but we want to grow incrementally, we want to manage our growth and serve appropriately our new members.”

In the meantime, the Alliance is setting its eyes on the European Union in the coming year, thanks to the trade agreement it struck with Canada in late 2013. It is also looking to take another investment mission into Asia.

“A little further afield, we are talking with the federal government now about an early spring visit to…China, possibly Vietnam or the Philippines, and most definitely Korea, because [Canada has] a new agreement with Korea as well,” said Kent.

“Right now, a lot of our emphasis is on developing markets that are going to offer considerable opportunity in the next little while,” added Darch. “And we’re looking at those areas where we can begin to clearly differentiate ourselves from our neighbour to the south. Yes, the U.S. is a very important part of North America, but often you can be more successful in North America by also coming into an area like Canada.”

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