At an extended breakfast meeting led by Patrick Robson, Commissioner, Niagara Region Integrated Community Planning, the overarching topic was “Developing the Binational Niagara Gateway.&Rdquo; With several dozen delegates from government, industry, education and the arts (quite a few of those made the trip from Western New York State to participate in the think tank), there was no shortage of suggestions as a wish list was developed to be fine tuned then acted upon.
Just the opportunity of sitting down together proved to all that the more we know about ourselves, the better ambassadors we can be. As well, with the explosive growth of social media demanding a place in the mix of a comprehensive marketing campaign, the development of on-line content in every field represented is no longer optional. As was learned first-hand at the Canada 3.0 2010 conference (cross-reference below), there is compelling evidence that Barrack Obama would not be president today if his campaign had only relied on the traditional forms of getting a message out (print, television, radio, billboards).
To start the discussion, a panel of three speakers looked at the subject from different points of view. Mayor Vance Badawey (Port Colborne) led off and spoke of creating a Foreign Trade Zone (similar to Winnipeg and Gander) as a step to better connect Canada with the world across all sectors “and, of course, tourism.” Maryann Stein, representing the Economic Development Corporation for Erie County, reviewed the still challenging financial climate facing entrepreneurial companies—including arts and culture industries—and suggested that the addition of a venture capital component to their many services would help to stimulate growth. Particularly relevant to the goal of “building/rebuilding a binational culture of business and community development” were Arlene White’s remarks. The executive director of the Binational Tourism Association reflected on the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative’s negative impact on cross-border traffic and stressed the importance of local outreach and binational promotions (e.g., World Junior Hockey Championship, Buffalo 2011; 2012 celebrations).
With coffee cups refilled, the participants divided up into four colour-coded groups to drill down into the details and come up with anything-goes responses to the challenges laid before them.
Purple agreed that senior levels of government don’t “get” the region, tourism can help to develop business opportunities and that just producing a report doesn’t cut it: an actual plan is needed.
The notion of marketing both sides of the Niagara River to make everyone aware of who does what and seeing more involvement from the private sector came from the orange table. “What new vehicles do we need to get the message out?” was a question left for the next-steps phase.
The green delegation decried the “alphabet soup of entities” in Canada and the U.S., suggesting an inventory of what all of them do to help avoid duplication. “Who is going to be the single voice?” was wondered aloud.
Finally, the blue team speculated on the advantage of having a Canadian Consulate General in Buffalo and hoped the highly successful Curtain Up! Model (all Western New York State theatre groups jointly promote themselves and each other) might be expanded and adopted in Niagara. With such strong performing and visual arts organizations in both countries, increasing their cross pollination can only help everyone.
Robson then concluded the session by thanking the attendees for taking the time to share their views. All of the summaries will be combined into one document which will form the basis for action which “has to be relevant to communities on both sides of the border.”
Given the enthusiasm and congeniality witnessed throughout the session, the chances for turning conversations into successful initiatives seem high. Building on the existing excellence within the arts is a logical way to begin and also something to tweet about! JWR