BIZ X MAGAZINE: The City of Windsor New Economic Diversification Strategy

In this space, the Rose City Politics panel will analyze, breakdown, and critique a local political issue that affects each and every Windsor resident.

For March 2021, the Rose Rose City Politics panel opines on the Windsor City Council endorsement of the Public First report on economic diversification, with recommendations to come from administration on implementation.

The City of Windsor has seen many economic diversification strategies over the years and the Rose City Politics panel (each in their own individual opinions) breaks down what, if anything, is different about the situation now.

DOUG SARTORI: Windsor City Council sent an encouraging message February 8th voting unanimously to support Windsor Works’ economic diversification strategy. There are fair questions to be asked about the process that led to the contract, & plenty of room for critique. What matters is the way Mayor Dilkens & Council move forward.

The LIFT strategy calls for Windsor to renew & intensify our economic partnership with Detroit, retain & grow a talented workforce, & revitalize the city core. These aren’t new ideas, but they’re good ideas that stand a chance to be realized if elected officials put their differences & egos aside to focus on the work at hand.

Economic diversification has been a staple of headlines & campaign slogans for over a decade, but substantive movement has been lacking. Council can make real progress by building an inclusive, accountable process that invites all Windsorites to help design the city’s economic future.

To get better results in the next decade, we need to separate projects that move the needle from those that just make noise. Councillors, led by Rino Bortolin, made a good start in their questions to delegates. Moving forward they should hold themselves & partner organizations accountable by setting measurable objectives & transparently reporting on progress.

I was struck by how many critics seemed unprepared to give the Public First report a fair hearing. Many progressive Windsorites with valuable ideas to contribute feel shut out of the process. That’s a problem, & the task of resolving it rests with Mayor Dilkens.

Mayor Dilkens’ initiative on this issue has opened the door to a glittering opportunity for Windsor. Council can seize the opportunity & build a stronger economic future by committing to an open process aimed at building shared prosperity through economic diversification.

Doug Sartori is a political observer and organizer. When he’s not recording podcasts or getting people out to vote he runs Parallel 42 Systems, a technology consultancy in downtown Windsor.

JON LIEDTKE: Am I being gaslighted? I feel like it.

Windsor’s recently – unanimously approved by city council – economic development strategy, developed by a public relations firm located roughly 6000 kilometers away, on face value looks pretty good, but honestly, so have all the other ecdev strategies we’ve pursued.

For those unaware, to be gaslighted is when someone makes another person question their perception of reality. This is where I’m at. To quote Zoolander’s Mugatu, “I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!”

I’ve grown up in a political household with parents who have run for city council, owned small businesses, written for local publications, & organized some of the largest musical festivals in North America, which is to say I’ve grown up hearing about all the ways Windsor has sought to redefine, redevelop, or seek to implement strategies to propel itself into a new era of prosperity, or at the very least, make everyone else realize Ontario doesn’t stop at London!

Windsor has seen it all: a downtown arena moved towards Tecumseh because we shunned Wayne Gretzky; sports tourism & over 80 million dollars spent on an aquatic centre with unsustainable operating expenses; Eddie Francis & Sandra Pupatello’s whirlwind Windsor promotional tour (arguably the best ecdev strategy we’ve seen); the Amazon HQ2 bid; branding the region as one of the top seven intelligent cities – or retirement communities?; working with Detroit somehow; or even just seeking federal & provincial funding for a mega-hospital that will hollow out our core. We’re all used to this game…hell, most of us root for the Lions; we know perpetual failure.

Why will this be different? Councillors & the mayor tell us it will. I hope so because Windsor needs an economic development shot in its arm as much as we need COVID-19 vaccinations.

For all our sakes, let’s hope this strategy works, because we need its success to propel Windsor from the 1980s forward.

Jon Liedtke is a co-host and producer of Rose City Politics, a business consultant focusing on cannabis and marketing, an occasional reporter and writer, and a member of Windsor’s The Nefidovs.

Pat Papadeas: In 1973, at age 12, Mike Lazaridis won an award for reading every science book in the Windsor Public Library. Lazaridis, founder of a tech firm, went on to revolutionize the wireless communications industry with the development of Blackberry. I often wonder what conditions could have existed for Lazaridis (and countless others) that would have seen him stay, or return, to build his life & enterprise here, in the city where he was raised. It’s an intellectual exercise, but it can nonetheless assist us even now, four decades later, in unpacking what it means to retain, & attract, talent.

Talent attraction & retention is just one of the themes that runs through the “Windsor Works” report. It was prepared by Public First, a consulting company which helps “organizations understand and influence public opinion”. These public relations experts did not give us a blueprint for economic diversification, but that doesn’t mean the report didn’t serve a worthy purpose.

Economic diversification, not unlike diversified portfolios in financial markets, aims to reduce financial risk so that we can survive bad hits, stay afloat, & keep moving forward over the long term. Public First’s – unstated – purpose was to ensure that people in this city, whose livelihood & identity has so heavily relied on automotive manufacturing, are prepared to prioritize economic diversification strategies – details to follow.

With support from cross sectoral stakeholders & the unanimous endorsement of city council, Public First delivered what it was paid to. They did it by including a little something for everyone, enough to get people on board & prepared to pick up an oar to help propel us. What happens next is the important, & far more telling part. Where do we want to go & how do we decide how we get there? All eyes on the City’s forthcoming implementation recommendations.

What brings people to Windsor & makes us want to make it our home? What keeps people here? Why do others, like Lazaridis, need to leave? While we wait for the next report, we should reflect on those things & also, the greatness of public libraries.

Pat Papadeas is a legal studies professor at St. Clair College and co-author of the textbook Canadian Business Law (Emond Publishing). She is active in organizations that directly or indirectly support a bold and vibrant downtown.

Rose City Politics broadcasts each Wednesday at 8:00pm at and is available on all your favourite podcasting apps, and appears in print monthly in Biz X Magazine.

[This column first appeared in the March 2021 issue of BizX Magazine]


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