All-female economic development department moves Kawartha Lakes forward

By Roderick Benns

All-female economic development department moves Kawartha Lakes forward
Rebecca Mustard, Carlie Arbour, Kelly Maloney, Lindsey Schoenmakers, Laurie McCarthy.

Just inside the doors of the city’s economic development department is a cluster of framed photos depicting the nine people who work there.

It’s conspicuous not just because the photos are an unexpected touch for a department that some might assume would be a little rigid and dry (just how exciting could “economic development” really be?) but rather because since 2018 there hasn’t been a single man to be seen on that wall.

The business of developing the economy of Kawartha Lakes is largely the job of the nine women in those photos. And as it turns out, that business is anything but dull; it’s quite clear that the economic development team has passion and clarity of purpose for what they do.

As they prepare for the Advocate cover shoot, they’re asked to just pretend they’re connecting with each other on a work project. Rather than making up a situation, however, they simply got to work. Actual projects were discussed in pairs and threes; deadlines were spoken of; ideas were traded.

But just what is this kind of work?

Emily Turner, Donna Goodwin, and Diane Steven.

Rebecca Mustard, manager of economic development for Kawartha Lakes for the past four years, says economic development as an industry has changed. At one time it was all about chasing large corporations, but the dynamics of globalization and the hollowing out of the manufacturing sector in many small towns across Canada has meant the focus is now “more on relationship building and collaboration,” she says.

There is plenty of credible research to suggest that this new focus is a good fit for a female-dominated department. Overall, women tend to collaborate and build relationships well, as many studies show.

According to a 2018 article in the Harvard Business Review, researcher Pam Heim uncovered an important difference in the way men and women view collaboration. She found that women are more likely to agree with the statement “Being a good team player means helping all of my colleagues with what they need to get done.” In contrast, men are more likely to agree with the statement “Being a good team player is knowing your position and playing it well.”

Regardless of what the research says, though, Mustard was keener to discuss the work her department does rather than gender differences in the work world.

The first wave of economic development that involved efforts to lure industry — smokestack-chasing — used to mean small towns and cities would try to attract one big employer to meet the municipality’s needs.

Second-wave economic development saw a greater focus on efforts to retain and expand existing industry, and was also marked by small business development.

The so-called third wave of economic development forms the basis for the city’s modern approach. “What we have shifted from is … the focus on attracting industrial development,” says Mustard. While there are still about 2,000 people employed in manufacturing in Kawartha Lakes, the east end of Lindsay is no longer a hotbed of employment. Many factories now sit empty and idle; others are now just whispers in empty fields where industries once stood.

“New business investment continues to be an important part of economic development,” she says, but “the majority of new jobs in a community come from the expansion of existing businesses, so the focus of economic development has shifted to creating conditions for local businesses to flourish.”

“It’s about the community working together to improve local economic conditions,” she adds.

Mariposa Dairy, which has grown exponentially in recent years, is a good example, she says. According to an Ontario East Economic Development brief, Mariposa Dairy now employs more than 120 people and processes close to 20 million litres of goat’s milk each year. The company sells 70 per cent of its products in the United States and is responsible for processing about 40 per cent of the entire goat’s milk harvest in Ontario. The company, which started with a farm just outside of Lindsay — is now a massive industrial-scale facility in Lindsay that underwent a large expansion in 2017.

Rebecca Mustard.

Mustard says as communities work together to improve their economic, cultural, environmental and social sustainability, they’re looking to “improve quality of life for their people.”

How they do this continues to evolve, she notes, adding that economic development “doesn’t happen in a vacuum.” Instead, it involves government at various levels, as well as the business community and the community at large working together to improve local prosperity.

“Many people contribute to that process. Our team works specifically on projects that stimulate business development, workforce development, sector development and which strengthens … tourism and business development organizations,” Mustard says.

Downtowns Revitalized

Kawartha Lakes City Council has focused on an economic development strategy for the past four years which focuses resources in key ways. This includes a downtown revitalization strategy in Lindsay, Fenelon Falls, Omemee, and Coboconk-Norland.

The Million Dollar Makeover funding program has been gradually rolling out for small businesses, with more than $1 million dollars in financial incentives available  through loan and grant programs. Successful applicants are able to use the funds to improve their commercial, mixed-use, or heritage-designated residential buildings.

Funding is available to support many types of improvement projects, including: better signage, improving façades, building repairs and renovations, accessibility improvements, heritage conservation, outdoor art, and outdoor patios.

In Omemee, Councillor Ron Ashmore says there is a “new positive feeling” in the village over the past year, something he has heard from many people. “The Million Dollar Makeover has revitalized the library. Several stores and businesses have modernized and improved their signage and a new hardware store is now in the village,” he tells the Advocate.

Ashmore says the village will be “improving the appearance of many buildings starting this spring,” partly helped by council dropping its development charges on commercial development, which is in effect for up to five years. At that time it will be reviewed again. He says he believes the move has spurred new growth and interest from the development community.

He cites Green Eden in Omemee, a new residential development that will see construction begin in late 2020 or early 2021. The development is 18 semi-detached houses and 12 apartment units, “all with views and decks facing onto the protected Pigeon River wetland,” according to their website.

Ashmore also says there may be a new a new gas station coming to the village and that the beach area will be cleaned up.

The councillor says he is also asking the various service groups in Omemee “to partner with the city to help build a splash park,” he adds.

Ashmore says work is underway to secure a multimillion “connecting links” grant from the Ontario government for Omemee, a program that “helps municipalities repair designated municipal roadways and bridges that connect two ends of a provincial highway through a community or to a border crossing,” according to the Ministry of Transportation’s website.

Lindsay, too, is seeing its share of changes aimed at creating an economic boost for the city. All-new infrastructure under the streets is being redone over the next two years. Lindsay’s storm sewers, sanitary sewers, and watermain systems are a century old and are well overdue for replacement. New sidewalks and resurfaced streets, complete with traffic-calming features and improved intersections are also being built. There will be more greenery, including more trees and planters.

The city’s focus on redoing its downtowns is backed up by research from urban economists – that the importance of cityscapes is both economic and cultural. Downtowns are iconic. When we travel to new towns and cities the first thing we want to see is what their downtowns look like – not the far-flung edges of ubiquitous plazas and corporate stores.

Downtowns most often contain the local landmarks and the distinctive features that have shaped a place. They offer insights about where a town has been and where it might be going.

Mustard would agree, noting downtowns play a key role in defining Kawartha Lakes’ communities, representing us both to ourselves and to outsiders.

“They are critical to communities because it’s part of how we see our identity.”

The Culture Cluster

The economic development team takes a “cluster” approach to its planning, which basically means an ecosystem of interconnected businesses. For instance, culture would be considered a cluster. “The evolution of the arts and heritage trail is a great example,” Mustard points out.

The arts and heritage trail is a tourism initiative that showcases the numerous art studios, galleries, museums and historic and culinary culture sites throughout Kawartha Lakes. There are 48 destinations on the trail.

Seventeen of these are new or expanded enterprises that now provide a livelihood for 38 local entrepreneurs, as well as creating 19 full-time and 21 part-time jobs and one seasonal position. These destinations participated in six business development and tourism development workshops through the year in order to enhance their operations and offer new experiences for visitors.

The growth of the cultural industry has been significant. For instance, in 2017 the cultural sector contributed $43 million to the Kawartha Lakes economy. This includes visitors spending their money on cultural activities in the city, as well as the value of all goods and services produced. This was led by visual and applied arts with $8.2 million worth of that share.

The culture sector is responsible for 527 jobs in Kawartha Lakes. Visual and applied arts led the way in providing jobs in the areas of original visual art, art reproductions, photography, crafts, advertising, and architecture design. As well, data collected in the spring of 2019 show the city is home to more than 189 cultural businesses, including 39 artist and art studios, galleries and artisan gift stores.

In a brief provided to the Advocate on this topic, the economic development department also points out the significant sector development that has occurred through the creation of the Kawartha Lakes Arts Council and the Kawartha Lakes Arts & Heritage Network.

“These initiatives are laying the ground work for a strong economic cluster in the region,” according to the brief.

A farm in Cameron. Photo: Melodie Ng.

Female-led farms

The number of women-owned enterprises continues to grow — and that includes our farms. The most recent Kawartha Lakes statistics provided by the city show 530 female farm operators here. Even though there is a significant decline in the number of farmers, the number of women operating farms has dropped by only five since the last census, compared to a loss of 130 male farm operators.

There are 100 farms in Kawartha Lakes where a woman is the sole operator, an increase of 42 per cent since the last census. (That compares to a 20 per cent increase at the provincial level.) In this city, almost eight per cent of farms are run by a female sole operator.

Women’s Participation

The Canadian government “is advancing women’s economic empowerment” with the first-ever Women Entrepreneurship Strategy (WES), a $2-billion investment that seeks to double the number of women-owned businesses by 2025, according to the WES website.

This focus suggests the federal government recognizes that rectifying women’s historic under-representation in business is one way to boost Canada’s GDP. As the government notes, studies show that by advancing women’s economic participation in the economy Canada could add up to $150 billion in GDP.

There’s no doubt women in Kawartha Lakes want a piece of that. Women are participating in the local and national economy in greater numbers than ever.

Our all-female economic development team may be novel in many ways, and yet it is simply emblematic of what is happening across our city and across our country — women, more often than ever, are leading the charge as entrepreneurs and small business owners.

Perhaps even better will be the day when all of this becomes unremarkable.

Most of the women who work in the economic development department for the city are economic development officers, or EDOs, connected to various economic sectors. They are: Jennifer Johnston (Administrative Assistant), Emily Turner (EDO – Heritage Planning), Donna Goodwin (EDO – Culture), Diane Steven (EDO – Entrepreneurship), Rebecca Mustard (Manager of Economic Development), Carlie Arbour (EDO – Community) Kelly Maloney (EDO – Agriculture), Lindsey Schoenmakers (EDO – Business), Laurie McCarthy (EDO – Tourism).


  1. pete says:

    Get real sick of these puff stories promoting phony diversity for the trudeau liberal agenda. How about merit as the criteria.

  2. Steady Eddie says:

    Silly…. let;s make a covid-9 research vaccine team made up of only purple skined scientists with orange spots because the best minds are not the deciding factor…

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