Best Practices: The Nelson Economic Development Partnership


The City of Nelson submits this application for The Nelson Economic Development Partnership as a best practice model for mid-size municipalities interested in an alternative and cost-effective approach to economic development. The Nelson Economic Development Partnership (NEDP) was established by the City of Nelson, the Nelson & District Chamber of Commerce and Community Futures Development Corporation of Central Kootenay. The Partnership was formed so that local and community economic development opportunities in and around Nelson, British Columbia could be pursued jointly, efficiently, and effectively. This unique economic development delivery mechanism was formed from January 2005 to March 2006. The partnership development phase yielded a number of results including: synthesis of relevant studies, organizational development including the recruitment of an Advisory Committee, and the development of an interim work plan and long-term strategic plan. The interim work plan ensured that progress continued on economic development priorities areas including: business retention & expansion, communications & regional collaboration, sector strengthening, infrastructure and business attraction & investment. The ‘excellence’ of this partnership model is evidenced by its ability to address common economic development challenges associated with political vulnerability, accountability, and meeting community expectations with limited funds.


In 2003 the Nelson City Council, Regional District Directors from Areas E & F, and the community were felt that they were not seeing results from the existing economic development delivery mechanism. The Nelson & District Economic Development Corporation (NDEDC) was originally set up to be independent of political influence but this autonomy led to issues with strategic vision and accountability. While the NDEDC did produce some useful deliverables, their vision at times was inconsistent with that of local government. Growing dissatisfaction was exemplified in 2003 when Regional Districts E & F withdrew their contribution to the NDEDC (representing nearly half of the budget). That same year, the City of Nelson decided to address the situation by conducting two extensive economic development sessions for key city staff and elected officials. From these sessions it became clear that the next step was to consider an alterative (and extremely cost effective) delivery approach and to find out what local businesses needed from economic development.

Elected officials from the City and Regional Districts E & F decided that the City should facilitate economic development until a more permanent structure could be put in place. Although this was a regional service, it was agreed that the City would use its share of the annual taxation to develop a new model for delivery. The City contributed to Community Futures to conduct a Business Vitality Initiative (process designed to engage community in setting priorities for economic development) in order to address community needs and expectations. In addition, an interim EDO was hired and the Office of Possibilities was established. While the Office of Possibilities was effective at facilitating community consultation through ‘Conversation Cafes’ it had no clear mandate and subsequently was not able to satisfy all funders (specifically Regional District Directors from Areas E & F).

The City of Nelson and Regional Districts E & F decided to go their separate ways and address economic development independently with the goal of collaborating when possible. At this point the budget for economic development was cut almost in half due to the removal of Regional District funds. Considering the cost of an economic development office, staff, basic research and implementation of projects, this limited annual budget called for an unconventional approach. It was essential that the chosen approach address challenges associated with limited funding, community buy in and collective vision, political shifts and accountability.

The City of Nelson recognized economic development activities were also being (often independently) addressed by two key organizations in the community: The Nelson & District Chamber of Commerce and Community Futures Development Corporation of Central Kootenay. During the years preceding the formation of the Nelson Economic Development Partnership, The City of Nelson worked jointly with the Chamber of Commerce and Community Futures on the Nelson Business Vitality Index Initiative (http://www.theciel.com/pub_bvireports.php), the Business Retention & Expansion Initiative, Invest Kootenay (www.investkootenay.com), and the new marketing brochure for Nelson (which also gained the support of Regional Districts E & F). In January 2005, an outside facilitator was hired to begin planning sessions for the formation of an economic development partnership. In March 2006 the long-term strategic plan was finalized following consultations with the community and partner organizations (Nelson City Council, the Nelson & District Chamber of Commerce and Community Futures Boards of Directors).

The Partnership Model for Economic Development

This unique partnership model for economic development represents an alternative to the traditional ‘EDO’ approach. This ‘revised’ economic delivery mechanism has allowed the City of Nelson to successfully address challenges associated with limited funds, community buy-in and collective vision, political shifts, and accountability. This has been accomplished by working collectively on economic development strategic goals by building on partners’ strengths and skill sets, making communications a priority & celebrating collective successes, utilizing an Advisory/Coordinating Committee structure, prioritizing the voice of business & engaging in sector outreach, and pooling limited resources. Since its inception, the NEDP has survived a significant change in political leadership and changeover of key personnel.

A number of processes related to the formation of the NEDP have improved efficiency, effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of economic development activities in Nelson. Efficiency has improved through the identification and coordination of economic development activities already underway by partner organizations and business sectors and by pooling resources (human & financial) for future actions. By pooling resources and building on the strengths of key contributors, the NEDP has successfully addressed gaps and overlaps. Sector outreach has also been prioritized including sectors that have been traditionally marginalized (i.e. the social sector, the arts & culture sector). Sector outreach has not only served to build capacity within sectors but has also served to identify synergies across sectors. Members of the business community are excited to be involved in the City’s economic development efforts and cross-sectoral collaboration has already begun.

The NEDP has also improved effectiveness by undertaking a review of relevant research / documentation (1990-2005) and engaging in an inclusive strategic planning process. These processes have allowed for the development of a comprehensive approach to economic development as opposed to one-time projects that may or may not be connected to one another. Community consultations have allowed residents to provide input and have also worked to secure community support. The long-term strategic plan (2005-2008) acts as a guide while the operational plan is revisited every 6 months in order to remain reflexive. In addition, the NEDP prioritized short-term actions to start with in order to build trust and achieve immediate results. As trust is built through short-term successes, longer-term actions will be initiated. The strategic planning process has also proved effective at ensuring short-term actions are connected to long-term goals.

The partnership is also incredibly cost-effective. Instead of dedicating the majority of limited funds to an economic development office and staff, the NEDP can now direct funds to economic development activities. In addition, partners have successfully been able to leverage funds with other sources not available to the municipality. Aside from the funding being focused on economic development activities, Community Futures is also provided with some funding for administrative costs while the Chamber of Commerce is provided with funding to act as the community’s first point of contact. The Nelson & District Chamber of Commerce now operates as the Chamber Office, Visitor Information Centre and the NEDP Office. Since this ‘first point of contact’ opened in October 2005 there have been:

  • 311 in-person investment / relocation inquiries
  • 271 economic development packages handed out
  • 1,437 business enquires
  • 108 business packages mailed out
  • 110 meetings with those concerned with economic development

Considering desired results are being achieved with half the budget of the former Economic Development Office, the NEDP has made significant progress in a very limited time toward addressing strategic goals through action and securing broad community support.

Applicability & Transferability of Partnership Model

An economic development partnership model is extremely applicable to mid-size municipalities who are struggling with the challenge of achieving progress on economic development goals using a limited budget. In addition, the partnership model also addresses challenges related to political vulnerability and managing community expectations.

In terms of transferability to other municipalities, trust across partner organizations is a critical ingredient to the success of an economic development partnership. As one committee member remarked, contributors must leave their egos at the door. Partners sitting at the table must be prepared to take off the hat of their respective organization and replace it with their ‘partnership’ hat (and this includes the City as an equal partner). Instead of being concerned with how a prioritized action may impact their organization the mindset MUST stay focused on how the action will impact the community as a whole.

Another consideration is not to be afraid of recruiting polarized partners. In past economic development efforts, the City of Nelson and the Nelson & District Chamber of Commerce were polarized on some issues. When the City considered a partnership model they recognized the value of including key contributors such as the Chamber even if they sometimes disagreed. With it understood that compromise is expected under the partnership, recruiting polarized contributors can prove an effective tool for community buy in. It should be noted that if partners are not ready to accept the conditions of compromise it is better to consider recruiting these partners at a later stage when the necessary level of trust has been achieved. Also an effective tool for community buy in is to consider different sectors of the business community when forming an Advisory Committee.

Other critical ingredients to the success of a partnership model include: starting by building trust through small successes, utilizing existing research as part of the strategic planning process, ensuring a level of community readiness, garnering the support of City Council and members of the business community, being ready to commit the time required to build the partnership & develop the strategic plan, prioritizing internal and external communications, and engaging in sector outreach with the goal of identifying synergies.

Improved Public Accountability & Awareness of Local Government

As mentioned, the community had concerns with the former economic development office. The new partnership model has drastically improved public accountability and awareness of local government in a relatively short period of time. This shift was achieved through the inclusion of a cross-section of business representation on the Advisory Committee, the inclusion of sometimes polarized partners, community consultations and sector outreach, and prioritizing communications (including a regular ‘report to community’ featured in the local newspaper). Business sectors, while once frustrated with Local Government’s economic development efforts, are now excited to be working with the NEDP on collective economic development goals. In addition, improved public accountability and awareness of local government has been achieved across the region as well as provincially and nationally as the NEDP has taken a leadership role in regional collaboration.


The success of the Nelson Economic Development Partnership is evidenced by resounding community and municipal support through a significant change over in municipal leadership in late 2005 and a new City Administrator in early 2006. The NEDP continues to garner broad community support and acts as an economic development leader in the region. The community is enthusiastic about being engaged in economic development efforts and a number of synergies across sectors have already emerged. The partnership’s success relies on the strong leadership and continuing commitment of NEDP Advisory and Coordinating Committee members alongside a community that is willing to work together to achieve collective economic development goals.

Quotes from Advisory & Coordinating Committee Members:

This is really fun work to do, the meetings are energizing and we’re learning a lot about different sectors and opportunities.

Leave your ego at the door… it is about the success of the community not the success of your respective organization.

It is great working as a team rather than wasting energy always trying to defend your position.


UBCM Community Excellence Awards:

Project:� Nelson Economic Development Partnership (NEDP)

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