Getting Creative – “Yes We Can” or “Mind the Gap”?

In today’s challenging economic times, it is extra important for governments, academics and individuals to plan our future economic prosperity. Thus, it is timely that Richard Florida and Roger Martin from the Martin Prosperity Institute, Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto this month published Ontario in the Creative Age, which provides a detailed future-oriented policy blueprint.

It sets a policy agenda to help us unleash our full potential in the Twenty-first Century where economic success is increasingly coming from creatively-oriented enterprise versus our traditional strength in routine physical and routine service occupations. The report is backed by research which highlights both our existing strengths and weaknesses including those in education, income and even the gap in our creative/routine job mix compared to our peers. Starting from the base of today, the agenda suggests four main focus areas to drive future prosperity:

  • “Harness the creative potential of Ontarians”, including businesses’ role in changing job mix, education and even marketing of our capabilities,
  • “Broaden our talent  base”, focused on  significant increases to our post secondary educational levels and broadening managerial capabilities,
  • “Establish new social safety nets”, including early childhood development, better utilization our key immigrant resource and retraining of older workers from declining occupational groups, and
  • “Build province-wide geographic advantage” which strengthens connections (physical and otherwise) within and beyond the mega-region spanning Waterloo-Toronto-Ottawa-Hamilton-Niagara-Rochester.

Having read this paper, it is encouraging to see such a forward thinking analysis that will certainly drive future governmental, business and economic decision and policy making. With that in mind, and being of an optimistic “yes we can” mentality, I was, however, struck by how very little attention was paid to the biggest gap of all — Funding this agenda.

Without proper funding, our ability to transform our economy in these wise and necessary ways, will go unfulfilled. I’ve written about this “funding gap” numerous times and from different perspectives:

I’m certainly not alone in this concern. Many others in positions of thought leadership have raised the issue of funding of investment, some with very specific policy proposals and others just highlighting the gap:

  • communitech-logoAvvey Peters from Waterloo’s Communitech blogged about Magic Words:  Economic Stimulus right before the Canada’s Januaray federal budget, and her post contains some very specific policy measures.
  • MaRS Discovery District - Where Great Minds MeetDr. Ilse Treurnicht, CEO of MaRS Discovery District, a leading Ontario driver of research and commercialization, provided a well-researched analysis of the major institutional and venture funding gaps of Canada compared to other jurisdictions in their latest newsletter.
  • Calliflower - A fresh approach to business conversationsAlec Saunders, CEO of one of Canada’s most promising web/mobile startups, Iotum, addressed the tech startup funding gap in the context of the proposed federal stimulus in his blog post Tech in Canada: Can We Do More Than Play Hockey? Also, a number of international discussions of technology competitiveness have been hosted on their innovative Calliflower service.
  • Peter Childs of BarCamp Ottawa & StartupOttawaPeter Childs, an Ottawa social media strategist and tech luminary, has laid out a framework Tech in Canada: Peter Child’s Framework  for Stimulus

Make no mistake, having surveyed funding sources for startups and social enterprise, Ontario (and Canada) significantly lags most regions in the US and Western Europe — our primary OECD comparables. The reasons for this are numerous and will be discussed in a separate posting, but this funding gap is our extra hurdle before we can be successful in driving the Florida/Martin challenge to transform Ontario to a creative economy.

And to be clear, this transition to the creative economy needs to be driven by the competitive, market economy. That implies that it will not the primary role of governments to provide the major funding for our transformation. Fundamentally, governments should not be picking winners and losers, but simply equiping market forces to go to work. And, given our long history and culture of relying on governments for answers, it is important to clarify that point. With the right framework in place, businesses and individuals will compete to drive the path to our future.

Thus, as their primary task, it is imperative that our federal and provincial governments develop a strong and co-ordinated policy framework, dealing with taxation, security regulation, and the like, to encourage the private sector to make such investments. And, in our current times of economic stimulus, the extra icing on the cake should be to channel some of those near term stimulus dollars toward growing the creative sector that is so essential to our future economic prosperity.