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Ask Ron - Answers from Thursday

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  • Ask Ron - Answers from Thursday

    I JnO 1

    1. What effect will Walmart’s decision to build their distribution centre in Calgary have on Port Alberta? Was Edmonton/Port Alberta in the running for this distribution centre? About 18 months ago it was announced that investors from China were supposed to build a major distribution centre at Port Alberta/YEG. Was this supposed to be the Walmart distribution centre or is this major distribution centre still in the works? Is CP still going ahead with the building of their new inter-modal facility across QEII from YEG?

    Walmart already has a major distribution centre in Calgary so their decision to build an expanded warehousing operation just outside of that city wasn’t really all that surprising. We did approach Walmart when they were looking to expand. Regarding the investors from China, we cannot speak to this as their interaction was with Edmonton Airports, however I don’t think that Walmart was the intended customer for that project. Personally I believe Walmart is pretty satisfied with where they are. Finally, on your CP question, the last I heard it is still in their plans to go ahead but I am unsure of the exact timing - we can get more information on this.

    2. Would it be possible to locate a quality restaurant in the river valley room of the SCC? Also would it be possible to locate a coffee shop in the main floor of the small auxiliary building on the west side of the Shaw Conference Centre. Again, incredible views and some great space for an outdoor patio.

    Thanks for your questions. The river valley room of the SCC was originally designed as a restaurant and operated as such, unsuccessfully, for several years. Three or four independent companies leased the premises but none of them were able to operate profitably. The restaurant "brand" companies we approached all had predetermined parameters that any new site would need to offer in order to get business volumes to the requisite levels. All of those we spoke to felt that being one level below Jasper Avenue with virtually no "street presence " would make it impossible to operate a restaurant successfully in that location and our own experience indicates that they are correct in that assessment.

    Regarding the coffee shop in the small auxiliary of the SCC, yes it probably would be possible to do that. The reason it has not been done yet is the very substantial cost of upgrading and expanding that space to a standard acceptable to a proven restaurant operator. The west building is actually a fire escape route from the Pedway Level and probably the stair well, which occupies about one third of the space at the Jasper Avenue level, would need to be maintained. In turn that will require an expansion of the space at that level, probably to the south into what is now a public walkway. This is another location at which utility services are very limited; correcting that is a major cost factor. The financial feasibility of such a development is doubtful given the amount of pedestrian traffic in the area as compared to the Tim Horton's at Jasper Ave and 101 Street for example.

    II richardW

    1. To the average Edmontonian, what is the purpose of EEDC and what benefits do citizens obtain from the organization? In the simple mass appeal words if you know what I mean.

    Edmonton Economic Development Corporation (EEDC) is an independent corporation established by the City of Edmonton and is responsible for delivering coordinated and cost effective tourism and economic development initiatives for Edmonton, incorporating the Shaw Conference Centre, the Edmonton Research Park and TEC Edmonton, a joint partnership with the University of Alberta. EEDC’s purpose is to create sustainable economic growth and development for Edmonton.

    While that gives you a high level overview of what EEDC is all about, if you would like some specifics on the sorts of things that we are involved in, they include:

    - We help grow businesses to and within Greater Edmonton by identifying and marketing business opportunities, acting as a corporate liaison and providing site location assistance.

    - We support Edmonton’s business environment by promoting greater productivity and competitiveness through innovation, developing the region’s transportation capabilities and enhancing the local workforce.

    - We strive to establish globally competitive industries and a diversified economy by focusing on the key sectors of advanced technologies, education, energy, finance, insurance and real estate, health services and tourism.

    - Tourism is one of the fastest-growing sectors of world trade with over $1 billion spent in the Edmonton region annually. Edmonton Tourism, a division of EEDC, promotes Greater Edmonton as the destination of choice for tourism, conventions, major events and film production.

    - The Shaw Conference Centre is one of Canada’s premier meeting, entertainment, and convention venues. The SCC has won recognition for its architecture, facilities, gold medal cuisine, impeccable service and social responsibility efforts.

    - The Edmonton Research Park houses dozens of research-oriented companies in high-opportunity sectors. The park’s campus-like setting is designed to maximize synergy and collaboration among these knowledge-based firms.

    - We are also a stakeholder in TEC Edmonton, a joint venture between EEDC and the University of Alberta which also supports technology start-ups.

    III Green Grovenor

    1. The sudden decision to shut down Capital Health and create a ‘superboard’ was very disappointing. I thought, because the agency was doing so many creative things that supported the city beyond the delivery of medical care. To what extent has restructuring impacted plans to build a creative, knowledge-based economy? Is the dream of Edmonton as a ‘Mayo North’ now essentially dead, or can that still be achieved though the new entity, even though it has a provide-wide focus?

    Capital Health was a very well respected organization and I agree the shut down was cause for some real concern. Based on discussions we’ve had with the province, they are working to build a first-class health care centre and recognize that Edmonton has established itself internationally as a leader in medical research. I do not believe the dream of a ‘Mayo North’ is dead, rather the reorganization is making us rethink the strategy.

    2. The concept of further developing the oil sands is being slaughtered in the international media. Some of the criticism is fair. Some of it isn’t. Edmonton is an important processing centre for bitumen, so the public perception of oil sands is a critical local issue. Is there anything the city can do to help ‘green up’ the sector, to address fair criticisms, and what can we do to improve communication about the oil sands to the international audience?

    Yes, I agree with you. Our board recently met with the Oilsands Developers Group to better understand the issues around oil sands development. As you’ve indicated both real and perceived issues have to be addressed. We’re working on a long-term energy and petro-chemical strategy for the Edmonton region and I have no doubt that a marketing and communications plan will be a key part of that strategy.

    IV Blackasslady

    My question is about EDE’s leadership… or lack thereof. When our community recently debated the future of the City Centre Airport, EDE under your leadership was silent. When our community recently debated the future of a new regional municipal alliance for accelerated economic growth, EDE under your leadership was silent. And when our community debated a new downtown arena, EDE under your leadership was silent.

    My sources within these three projects affirm EDE was not quietly working behind the scenes; you were just conspicuously absent without explanation. Since these three community initiatives are arguable the three biggest economic development issues of our generation, you can understand that many citizens are whispering about the effectiveness of your leadership. When can we expect EDE under your leadership to once again be a regional leader?

    You raise some valid concerns which I will address one at a time:

    The City Centre Airport debate was an economic one, but to some extent it may be argued it was also a political one, and as such our board decided we would not get involved unless explicitly asked by the City of Edmonton.

    Your reference to a municipal alliance, I am not clear on what the question is. If you’re referencing the new Capital Region Board, membership is restricted to municipalities that make up the region. Therefore, EEDC as an organization has not been invited to the table. With respect to our involvement with regional economic issues, I strongly disagree. At a staff level, we are working with all the key economic development organizations within the region on an ongoing basis on projects that include the Eco-Industrial Petrochemical Park, Port Alberta and regional marketing. As for my own direct involvement as President of EEDC, over the past year I have personally met with virtually every one of the senior political leaders in the Edmonton region to discuss economic development issues, and best options and strategies for promoting economic growth in the region in the future.

    With respect to the proposed downtown arena, this discussion is just starting and at this juncture the idea is being advanced by a private corporation. From an economic perspective we support the revitalization of downtown in general and any investment in the downtown core will be beneficial to our city.

    In regards to being a leader, EEDC has developed a long-term strategic plan which is aligned with the City of Edmonton. The plan focuses on our vision of being recognized as one of the world’s leading midsized cities. This is going to EEDC’s Board of Directors for their approval in the next month and after that we can talk more publicly about it, engaging with industry, stakeholders and community.

    V Edmontontaxpayer

    Mayor Mandel is quoted in yesterday's Journal as saying the $1.4 million Edmonton Stories website project is "not an expensive program." That's an outrageously arrogant statement given the fact that this taxpayer-funded project is likely the MOST EXPENSIVE website ever created in Edmonton (and perhaps Alberta)!

    I have some big issues with paying a small army of PR pros to produce stories about carefully selected "interesting" Edmontonians based on the nonsensical notion that this will somehow improve Edmonton's national reputation or attract investment. Are our interesting people truly any more interesting than interesting people in every city in the world? Of course not. And who cares?

    The Edmonton Stories campaign is a proud initiative between EEDC and the City of Edmonton; therefore, the following is a joint response.

    It’s apparent from the questions that additional background on the initiative might be helpful.
    Several points need to be clarified. First, the intent of this effort. Second, the approach to developing a website. Third, site content. is one part of a campaign intended to enhance the potential of Edmonton. It is a research-driven solution to a very real issue for businesses, institutions and tourist operators in our city and region.

    The problem is that Edmonton isn’t known nationally or internationally. This low level of awareness means our city is not competitive for workers, students, professionals, tourists, investment and immigrants. It’s not that we have a bad reputation – it’s just that people don’t know about Edmonton and don’t consider Edmonton as an option. The impact of this low level of awareness has a cost that is significant not only to our city today, but in terms of what we see Edmonton becoming in the future.

    To ensure we understood the issue, in mid-2008 we conducted research that included executive stakeholder consultation and a large scale quantitative awareness and image benchmark survey. The results were eye opening. Executives throughout Edmonton felt prior marketing and awareness efforts had been weak, inconsistent and unsuccessful. They also unanimously agreed that we needed to change this situation because it was affecting their success.

    The quantitative research clarified the issue and helped us understand the opportunity. It concluded that general awareness of Edmonton was weak, our city ranked behind other Canadian cities in terms of a place to live or visit, and that what people imagined about Edmonton and what it was like to live here, was frequently wrong.

    When we analyzed the data we discovered the issue was really one of perception versus reality. What Edmontonians experienced was dramatically different than what others not familiar with our city, imagined. We found the Edmonton experience far surpasses what people actually look for in a place to live. Our quality of life, as experienced by our citizens, is high and appreciated. In fact, the research indicated the gap between the experience of residents and the perception of others was one of the largest the researchers had ever seen.

    With this knowledge, we undertook an open competition through a request for proposals for an agency to help us with an advertising and marketing campaign. Expressions of interest came from firms across North America. A panel from the business community and stakeholder partners reviewed submissions, short listed candidates, reviewed the final creative presentations and made the ultimate selection of the agency to help us.

    The agency we selected was deemed to have an approach that we felt matched the needs and personality of our city. The creative solution selected was based on social media rather than traditional advertising. It was built upon the concept of citizens as the most knowledgeable and appropriate ambassadors for Edmonton, which was supported by the research. The solution was to tell the story of the quality of life of Edmonton, through the experience of those who live, work and visit our city.
    The research also told us there was alignment between the attributes people look for in a place they want to visit and in a place they might choose to live. We determined we could develop a single, unified campaign suitable for both worker recruitment and tourism, and able to resonate locally, nationally and internationally.

    Last, but not least, we felt we could leverage our partnerships with various businesses, institutions and stakeholders to multiply message exposure. Where businesses and institutions had jobs to fill, we could link our material in the form of tool kits and stories that would illustrate the experience and quality of life our city offers. And, we could do that very authentically, in the words of real people similar in circumstance to those we were trying to attract.

    The contest and website was a foundational element of a comprehensive campaign. Designing the campaign cost $199,000 while the cost to design and set up the website was $137,500. Costs to promote the site and launch the program with traditional advertising totaled $65,000. Other expenses for 2009 include: an eight-person content and videography team $730,000; and, a social marketing and online media buy of $268,500.

    To start, we seeded the site with the type of stories we felt would be helpful in illustrating the sort of experiences we wanted to share with others unfamiliar with our city. Then, we asked people from the Edmonton region to help us by sharing their insights through their stories of our city.

    They responded. At the conclusion of this first phase, we have a site with 224 stories, of which 137 have been written/video taped and contributed by citizens.

    Since EDE is supposedly a partner in this project, please answer these questions:

    1. What credible marketing experts can you name---who have not benefited from this program---who have objectively critiqued the legitimacy and effectiveness of this marketing program?

    In terms of educated input from those in the marketing business, the concept and approach to enhancing awareness of Edmonton through a story telling website won support from a wide range of experienced professionals. Marketing and communications experts from organizations including the University of Alberta, EPCOR, Northlands, Edmonton Airports, Grant MacEwan, NAIT, the Downtown Business Association, the Arts Council, and members of the Destination Marketing Committee were involved in the concept development, in some cases sat on the panel selecting the agency, and are supportive of this approach.

    2. How much money has been spent on similar image marketing projects in each of the past five years?

    This awareness campaign is really not like anything we have undertaken in the past. It’s hard to compare edmontonstories to other marketing efforts because the concept is simply not traditional. We do know that other cities, regions and states when faced with similar awareness issues, tend to budget amounts for traditional print and television campaigns in the range of $2 million to $6 million annually. We believed using a web-based approach and linking to existing recruitment and visitor attraction efforts, we could demonstrate success with less cost. We wanted an approach that could be integrated with ongoing marketing efforts so ‘new’ money would not be needed. We also believed that a solid and thoughtful concept, executed well, would win the support and, in some cases funding, from others with similar marketing challenges (such as the Destination Marketing Fund).

    3. If each year's image marketing campaign is so successful, why has the marketing strategy been dramatically different each year?

    In previous years EEDC has developed a variety of marketing activities; some sustainable and some project-specific based on research and market intelligence in the areas of tourism and economic development. The City of Edmonton and EEDC together identified that we needed a research-driven approach and a long-term perspective to resolve our awareness challenge. Ideally we wanted to develop a solution that businesses, institutions and industry sectors could leverage. That’s what provides. Because it has been designed to reflect the experiences of real people, Edmontonstories is open to contributions from visitors and residents throughout the region. We’re pleased that the stories posted on the site reflect the broad area we represent.

    4. Why does Edmonton Stories have almost no profiles on interesting people from the regional communities surrounding Edmonton? (Is this group of 300,000 people not very interesting? Or just not of interest to the City of Edmonton's communications dept?)

    Stories submitted are not heavily edited. As our site has a specific purpose, we ask that submitted material be appropriate to the intent of the website – which really hasn’t been a problem. We want the stories to provide personal insights, so it is important that they reflect the voice of the author.

    5. What percentage of the stories on this heavily censured (and low-believability) website have been written by PR people? And what's the percentage (and number) of stories voluntarily submitted by citizens?

    Attracting stories onto the site was the first phase of this larger campaign. Our intent now is to link to recruiting efforts and to visitor attraction. The website and its content can also be used to introduce the experience of our city to others such as students or conference attendees.

    6. Is there any objective, quantitative evidence to suggest that Edmonton's image has been enhanced by all of your "image enhancement" campaigns?

    While the first phase focused on the Edmonton area, we have been surprised at the reach we have tracked through Google metrics. Without any advertising spend, visitors from over 2,000 cities in over 131 countries have visited the site.

    7. Exactly what aspect of Edmonton's image was so deficient that it needed enhancement by the Edmonton Stories project?

    As mentioned, Edmonton has suffered from an awareness issue. We’re simply not known – and what people imagine about us is not the experience.

    8. Were all the contracts to ParCom Marketing and other contractors on this project publicly and properly tendered?

    An open competition was held and a panel selected the agency.

    9. This $1.4 million project only resulted in about 53,000 'visitor clicks' outside of our region. (Presumably many of these clicks were simply other Albertans.) Does EDE truly believe that this marketing campaign was a success when it cost a staggering $26.40 per (external market) visitor click? Or will you concede that this is really a marketing fiasco that should not be repeated?

    While we have attracted national and international visitors to the site in this first phase, subsequent phases will be focusing on recruitment and visitor attraction. We expect to see much more site traffic from key target markets through further phases of the campaign.

    10. Why is the City of Edmonton involved in this project when EDE is supposedly in charge of regional marketing and the city's communication department has repeatedly embarrassed Edmonton with previous marketing screw-ups?

    Edmonton’s image and competitive position against other cities our size, affects many aspects of our city. It is a shared problem we feel is best addressed through a collaborative and shared solution. This approach means that we’re working together to more powerfully represent the potential of our city and the attributes that make us a city others should consider. No one organization owns this issue. It’s appropriate we work together on material we can all use successfully. has the potential to be a tool that illustrates the experience we offer, through testimonials that speak very effectively to families, to youth, and to cultural groups in ways other forms of advertising do not.

    VI etownboader

    We have recently witnessed Northlands and various other organizations arguing over their roles in the community. There is a good chance that Northlands will be eliminated from any future arena development in the core of our city... should that be the case, is Northlands still necessary? And if not, any chance that the EEDC and Northlands will merge or the EEDC take over the roles that Northlands currently plays in the city of Edmonton?

    Addressing your first question, since EEDC has had no direct involvement in any of the operational issues around either Rexall Place or the proposed downtown arena/entertainment complex, it would be really hard for us to comment on this matter.

    With respect to EEDC’s relationship with Northlands, over the years we have partnered with Northlands on a number of projects and initiatives and over that time we have developed a good working relationship. EEDC is responsible for overall tourism promotion in Edmonton, and since Northlands plays a key role in this sector, they are an important partner that we work with on an on-going basis. Our two organizations also cooperate with each other in the trade show, exhibition and convention markets, even thought the trade show/exhibition and convention markets are actually quite different and distinct from one another (trade shows generally require large amounts of exhibit space and are typically located outside the downtown core, while conventions generally require higher quality meeting spaces within a convenient walk of downtown hotels, restaurants and other amenities).

    Would it make sense to merge the two organizations – it is hard to say. Both organizations have developed very solid reputations in their respective fields, and there don’t seem to be any significant overlaps or redundancies between the two. Based on that, I am not sure the benefits of a merger would necessarily outweigh the loss of focus that would likely result from a merged organization.
    Last edited by Ron Gilbertson; 30-09-2009, 09:47 PM. Reason: additional answer