EEDC looks to deliver “monumental value” with new energy, identity, and purpose

When Brad Ferguson took over as President & CEO at Edmonton Economic Development Corporation (EEDC) in the summer of 2012, he knew things had to change. Even though Edmonton’s economic growth remained strong, many leaders throughout the city felt that EEDC could be doing more. Even City Council had begun to lose confidence in the organization, with Councillor Caterina going so far as to suggest that EEDC be shut down if its fortunes weren’t turned around. Brad insisted he was fired up and ready to do the work of remaking the organization.

Brad Ferguson

He wasn’t kidding. The organization today has changed dramatically from the one Brad took over. He opened his speech at last week’s 2014 Impact Luncheon with that context:

“I stood at this podium one year ago knowing a lot had to change. Our organization had lost the confidence of City Council and lost relevance with the business community.”

“I can stand here today proud of the work we’ve done and the changes we’ve made in the last twelve months.”

Over the last year EEDC has clarified its purpose and approach, revamped its brand and visual identity, brought in fresh leadership, and has started to dramatically shift the internal culture of the organization.

Edmonton Economic Development is changing the way it does business. “The culture of winning is what we’re building,” Brad said.

New Purpose & Approach

To bring greater focus to the work of the organization, EEDC has clarified its primary objective:

To ensure the Edmonton Region outperforms every major economic jurisdiction in North America consistently over the next 20 years…regardless if the price of oil is $140 or $40.

That’s a big departure from the organization’s previous (though fleeting) goal statement, which was to become one of the world’s top five mid-sized cities by 2030. It’s a shift from aspirational hyperbole to measurable outcomes, from uncertain ROI for stakeholders to an assured local impact.

In the next three years, Edmonton Economic Development needs to transition from “monumental change” to “monumental value” created for the City of Edmonton.

EEDC’s new website and its 2014-2016 Statement of Intent detail how the organization is evolving to deliver greater value and achieve its objectives. Importantly, EEDC’s strategic direction references the City of Edmonton’s plan on economic development known as The Way We Propser. Rather than duplicating effort or taking different approaches, EEDC envisions itself contributing to the City’s efforts in seven ways. “These seven roles can best be accomplished outside the City of Edmonton, and provide Edmonton Economic Development with a platform for delivering significant value to the economic growth strategy for the City of Edmonton.”

It’s remarkable how little EEDC’s structure has changed since it was formed two decades ago. The four separate organizations that came together have always remained highly visible – the Shaw Conference Centre, Edmonton Tourism, the Edmonton Research Park, and Economic Development. The new approach doesn’t completely move away from those historical silos, but it does make a start.

Edmonton Economic Development will be structured as a conglomerate of six divisions, each with their own expectation of performance and accountability.

The six divisions are:

  • Enterprise Edmonton
  • Edmonton Tourism
  • Shaw Conference Centre
  • Build Edmonton
  • Brand Edmonton
  • Corporate Services

Build Edmonton is slated to be approved and established by April, and will take over ownership of the Edmonton Research Park. Corporate Services is an internally-focused division and one of its key goals will be to earn Top Employer awards by 2015.

Brand Edmonton is perhaps the area of the new EEDC that is most in flux. Sometimes mentioned as a division and other times mentioned as a priority, Brand Edmonton will build on the work of Make Something Edmonton to provide brands, campaigns, and plans for building Edmonton’s brand locally and around the world. While the details about how Make Something Edmonton will continue are still being worked out, it’s clear that EEDC will play a significant role in it’s future (for instance, interim executive director Mary Sturgeon has already moved over to EEDC’s offices). It’s a recognition of the fact that EEDC has a key role to play in telling Edmonton’s story.

Priorities and performance measures for each division have been identified and shared publicly in the Statement of Intent, which speaks to both the competitiveness and accountability that Brad is trying to encourage throughout the organization.

Overall, the 2014-2016 period will be defined by “performance” in a way that will forever differentiate the expectation of Edmonton’s economic development organization.

Forget what you think you know about economic development organizations!

New Brand Identity

One of the most visible ways EEDC is changing is of course it’s new brand identity. EEDC last underwent a major change in 2004, when the name Edmonton Economic Development Corporation was announced on May 7. The organization had been known as Economic Development Edmonton prior to that. Then President Allan Scott said the change would “clearly emphasize what we sell: Edmonton.” The following week, EEDC moved into its current offices at the World Trade Centre (they had been at the Shaw Conference Centre before that).

Now EEDC has dropped the word “Corporation” from its public brand. Though officially (on paper) still known as Edmonton Economic Development Corporation, the public-facing brand will simply be Edmonton Economic Development. Much as Apple dropped “Computer” from its name back in 2007 to better reflect its new business strategy, the change at EEDC brings clarity to the organization’s direction. The emphasis is now clearly on economic development, rather than bureaucracy.

More visually, EEDC worked with DDB Edmonton to develop a new logo for the organization and its divisions:

“Our logo reflects Edmonton Economic Development’s vibrant new culture. It is bold, confident and energetic. Its graphic expression tells the story of big ideas transformed into tangible economic progress for Edmonton.”

Here’s the old logo compared with the new one:

EEDC Logo Before & After

Kevin Weidlich, VP of Marketing & Communications at EEDC, told me that “the old look and feel was inconsistent with the direction” that the organization was headed. When he joined in March 2013, he found himself struggling to explain to friends and family what EEDC does. “I realized that lots of energy was focused on ourselves instead of on our clients”, he told me. “Our brand architecture caused that confusion.”

Howard Poon, DDB’s Design Director, had this to say about the new look:

“What we’re doing with this identity is showcasing EEDC’s vibrant new culture, the entrepreneurial spirit. We’re telling the story of how this organization takes big ideas and transforms them into progress for Edmonton. It’s all about energy and momentum.”

The vertical grey line is viewed as the anchor, representing the organization’s established, grounded and trusted team of experts. The green and gold rays are said to be “bursting forth from the anchor” and they represent “the entrepreneurial dreams, ideas, and actions Edmonton Economic Development transforms into reality.” Green and gold are also seen as a nod to Edmonton’s heritage.

Two of EEDC’s divisions have new logos too, Enterprise Edmonton and Edmonton Tourism.

EEDC Logo Before & After

I remarked that the new logos all looked a bit abstract. The DDB design team (which included David Landreth and Adnan Huseinovic) chose that approach because they felt “it better reflects EEDC’s innovative mindset.” Howard said “a literal symbol or icon doesn’t effectively capture the organization’s personality.”

Helene Leggatt, President of DDB Edmonton, spoke positively about working on the project with EEDC. “There seemed to be a unified sense of purpose,” she told me. It can be tricky with multiple stakeholders to get consensus, but she found everyone at EEDC to be really well-aligned. The project took just 10-12 weeks, from start to finish. “They’re pushing more innovative thinking,” she said. “There’s new energy, new focus, and real fire at EEDC.”

Shaw holds the naming rights on the Shaw Conference Centre until 2016, so that logo remains untouched. Though the new EEDC website still highlights just three divisions, other material frequently mentions Build Edmonton and Brand Edmonton too. I think we can expect a logo for Build Edmonton later this year. Brand Edmonton, on the other hand, is currently envisioned as “a new suite of Edmonton Economic Development brands.”

The voice of EEDC is also evolving. The words “leadership”, “entrepreneurship”, “innovation”, and “competitiveness” permeate the language that EEDC now uses to express its mandate. The new brand guidelines say the tone of voice should be smart, inspiring, sincere, confident, and active.

As a result, the work being produced by EEDC now is less corporate and much more confident. Take the vision statement:

Edmonton, Canada’s economic and entrepreneurial powerhouse: A great northern city filled with unlimited entrepreneurship, education and energy that is a beacon toward which people who crave opportunity will come.

You’d be forgiven if the use of the word “powerhouse” surprised you. Elsewhere in the Statement of Intent you’ll find words like “unstoppable” and “scalable”. These words and phrases are used by energetic organizations like Startup Edmonton, not arms-length municipal bodies! That’s the new brand voice in action.

EEDC also launched a new website at The website doesn’t replace, but it has become the corporate home of the organization. Plans are still being fleshed out, but it is likely that will become consumer/tourist-focused. I asked Kevin about the choice of the word “ignite” and he said it perfectly captured the new direction of EEDC. Indeed the new brand guidelines use it to describe EEDC as “the spark that ignites success.”

New Energy

If you’re thinking that all EEDC has done is put on a fresh coat of paint, think again. From its divisional structure to its individual employees, EEDC’s internal changes have been significant.

At the 2014 Impact Luncheon Brad noted that 36% of EEDC’s employees have been with the organization less than a year, and 24% are in new roles or are doing things that didn’t previously exist, which means a full two-thirds of the organization is fresh. The organization’s makeup has changed demographically too. Just 12% of EEDC’s employees are baby boomers, while 42% are Generation X and 46% are Generation Y. They have also achieved a 52-48% male-female split.

One of the first new leaders to come on board was D’Arcy Vane, a director of Enterprise Edmonton. In early 2013, he was joined by Glen Vanstone who was previously the Director of Business Innovation at EIA. Kevin Weidlich came on as VP of Marketing & Communications, followed by Maggie Davison just a couple of weeks later as the VP of Tourism.

In April 2013 Derek Hudson joined to take on the role of Chief Operating Officer. In July 2013, Ken Chapman joined as Executive Director of Northern Initiatives. He was previously the Executive Director of the Oil Sands Developers Group, and he brings relationships and experience that EEDC has long lacked.

These are just a few of the new faces at EEDC. As noted, many existing EEDC employees have moved into new roles at the organization too. For instance, Tammy Pidner has taken on the role of Chief Evangelist.

I asked Kevin what the mood was like as a result of all the change. “Many of the new hires have brought skillsets that never existed in the company before,” he said, noting it has increased EEDC’s capacity. He cited Euna Kang, EEDC’s Creative Manager, as someone who has enabled EEDC to do more in-house than ever before.

“The level of excitement in the company now is palpable,” he told me.

Monumental Value?

When I interviewed Brad after he was just a month or so into the job, he already had a clear picture of the direction he wanted EEDC to go. “I want to fundamentally up the value of the organization to the community and to the City of Edmonton,” he said at the time.

The first step in achieving that was revamping the organization. EEDC today is focused, energized, and confident. But change is easier to bring about than increased value is (let alone monumental value). That’s the challenge facing Brad and everyone at EEDC over the next couple of years – translating all of the positive changes of 2012 and 2013 into results.

One of the things EEDC will need to do to find success is avoid distractions. While important, spearheading the work of image and branding for the city has historically been fraught with peril. Likewise, it can be easy to get drawn into the current political hot potato of the day or to start defining economic development too broadly. Focus is one of the most important things that EEDC has found over the last year, and it would be wise not to lose it.

It is often said that culture trumps strategy, but culture is much more difficult to change than strategy is to develop. New divisions, new logos, and new faces – none of these things come easily, and all are important elements of changing the organization’s culture. EEDC recognizes the challenge:

Developing the right corporate culture is a major undertaking that began in August 2012 and is developing into a strategic asset of Edmonton Economic Development that can never be measured on a balance sheet.

Getting the culture right isn’t the only hill to climb. EEDC will need to rebuild confidence in the business community and earn the trust of our new City Council. All of these things will take time and dedication because they require action. Fortunately, taking action appears to be something that the new EEDC is very good at. Brad promised changes, and he delivered.

Edmonton Economic Development’s mission is “to inspire a culture of entrepreneurship, innovation and competitiveness that forever differentiates our city.” If that wasn’t enough to make you a champion, the new energy and approach that Brad has brought to EEDC should be. The next few years are shaping up to be monumentally exciting.

Two Thousand Posts Later

I don’t know exactly when I started blogging, but it was around the time of the oldest post I have saved. In the 1587 days since that time, I’ve made 2000 posts – yes, this one is #2000! I figure that’s a pretty decent milestone, so I wanted to share a few thoughts with you.

I’ve always said that I blog for myself first, and everyone else second. That’s still the case, and it’s the main reason that I don’t have any ads on here (I also don’t think they’d provide much value to my readers). I’m always surprised when I read old posts because they offer a glimpse into how I’ve grown and changed over the years. Sometimes I think to myself, “did I really write that?”

Me on the tablet

Both my style of writing and the topics I write about have changed quite a bit. Here’s a sample comparison, March 2004 and March 2007:

Except for the little exercise above, I don’t think I’ve ever gone back to look at my posts from March 2004. I’ve referred to the ones from March 2007 many times though (as have others). I think it’s safe to say that I’m writing more interesting and useful content now than I used to.

Another really obvious change is that my posts are a lot longer than they used to be. The increase in quality is part of the reason for that, but the biggest reason is probably Twitter. When I started out, microblogging wasn’t even a thought let alone a word. Now it’s an increasingly popular activity, with dozens of sites (such as Tumblr) offering the ability to post short thoughts, links, or images. I used to post things like “Arrived in Calgary” to my blog, now I just use Twitter.

The tools and technologies I use to blog have changed as well. I started out on dasBlog, moved to .Text, then Community Server, and I’m now on WordPress. I’ve used a variety of posting tools, such as w.Blogger and Windows Live Writer (which I use almost exclusively now). I wouldn’t be surprised to find myself using completely different tools in another five years.

200 posts

The one thing that hasn’t changed is how much I enjoy blogging. I’ve learned so much about myself, met so many great people, and have hopefully been able to help others a little bit, all through my blog. Who knew that such an awful sounding word could turn out to be so great?

Here’s to another 2000 and beyond. Thanks for reading!

A Theory On Technological Innovation

I’m currently taking an Economics course (ECON 222) at the
University of Alberta entitled “Economic Growth, Technology, and
Institutions.” I find it very interesting, which is hardly surprising
given my liberal use of technology and the number of economics courses
I have taken as part of my Computing Science degree. As a result, I
like to think that I know a thing or two about technology and it’s
relation to economics (though I am sure to learn more before this
course is complete). At the very least, I can make some educated
assertions and theories. So today when I came across Tony Long’s Wired
article entitled “Dark Underbelly of Technology
I felt the need to say something, presumably because I’m a blogger and
thus, in his words, “everything [I] say is so interesting it should be
shared with everyone.”

Besides that little swipe at bloggers, it’s actually a well-written
opinion piece. The gist of his column can be found in the second last
paragraph (incidentially, I’m also taking a Sociology course right now,
so perhaps I can touch on that):

Anything that diminishes the value of a single human being poses a
threat to a rational, humane society. When technology can cure a
disease or help you with your homework or bring a little joy to a
shut-in, that’s great. But when it costs you your job, or trashes the
environment, or takes you out of the real world in favor of a virtual
one, or drives your blood pressure through the roof, it’s a monster.

First, let’s tackle the issue of technology negatively impacting us
as individuals. Sure when the computer crashes, or something breaks, we
get annoyed. But if you really think your ancestors were not also
annoyed by their technology, you’re mistaken! I don’t imagine it was
very much fun to have to fix the farm equipment when most people lived
and worked in the fields. Technology is created by humans, and I don’t
know about you but I don’t know anyone who’s perfect, so there’s no
reason to expect that technology should be.

Then there is the very common argument that technology forces us to
lose touch with humanity; that technology negatively impacts society as
a whole. Being connected all the time but never interacting face to
face is “bad”, or so the theory goes. I think the claim that we’re
“losing touch with humanity” is pretty baseless. Most people who make
the claim overlook a simple fact of history – that has never been the
case. Here’s why.

Technology is not new! Since the dawn of time pretty much, humans have created technology. Take the printing press
for example, which was developed in the 15th century. There are a few
important things to note about its development. First, the printing
press took a while to impact society – it was not an overnight change.
Second, there were very few other “major” technologies created around
the time of the printing press. And while the printing press did put a
few people out of work (scribes, for instance), it created far more
jobs than it destroyed.

Why did I mention the printing press? Because it’s a good example of
something I learned in my ECON 222 class. To summarize what my
professor and the textbook said:

Before 1800, people figured they lived in a static world simply because
growth was too slow for them to be aware it was happening at all. While
some economists and historians will claim that economic growth prior to
1820 was 0%, this is most definitely not true and even though growth
rates were tiny, compounded they still result in significant economic
growth over time.

Technology is one of the major reasons we see economic growth, so
it’s not unfair to say that if there was economic growth, there was
probably technological innovation too. And as economic growth since
1800 has been much higher, it’s likely that there has been more
technology developed. And given that the year 1800 was only just more
than 200 years ago, it’s fair to say that the period of high economic
growth and technology development has been fairly rapid in the grand
scheme of things. And that’s what is forgotten in articles and opinion
pieces like the one I mentioned above.

Most people are too quick to say that technology is harmful, simply
because they see development and change a lot faster than their
grandparents or great-grandparents ever did. Does that make it bad or
harmful? I would say no. In the past, people were not aware that
technology was changing and improving, so they didn’t care if it
affected society negatively (sure a few individuals did, but nothing
like today). And as history has shown, it didn’t affect society
negatively – we are several times richer than our parents and
grandparents (in terms of money, standard of living, education,
productivity, all those things). So therein lies my theory:

In the long run, technological innovation will always benefit society.

If we didn’t pay so much attention to whether or not technology was
negatively affecting society, we would carry on with our lives,
technology would continue to develop, and everyone would end up better
off, just as in the past.

How To Deal With Change

Post ImageSpeaking of change, Keith over at the wonderful To-Done! blog had this to say today:

Even small changes, like a rip-roarin’ summer, can throw us out of balance. Sometimes it’s as simple as a routine, or good habit, being broken. If enough time has passed and enough disruption has occurred, it can be hard to get back on track. Part of a maintaining a good work/life balance is taking a break now and again. The problem lies in that sometimes, a break is such a disruption you can lose momentum in various aspects of your life.

In my experience the best way to get back to normal (or what feels like normal) is to take a holistic approach as opposed on taking on one aspect of your life at a time.

He then outlines the holistic approach to handling change. Of the nine points Keith outlines, I’m currently doing three and occasionally four (clean and order your living and work areas is starting to be regular, but not yet). Looks like I have a little work to do!

Read: To-Done!