What’s the “C” in CED?

After our tour of Downtown Kitchener, Dr. Sharpe and I had a chance to catch up at dinner. He supervised both my BA and MA theses, but it was during my MA that he offered me a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to conduct my field work on Baffin Island (a hint as to how long ago that was – it wasn’t Nunavut then). I spent two weeks in Iqaluit and two weeks in Pond Inlet, a hamlet of about 1,000 at the very isolated north end of the island. My research focused on how economic development policy directed by different levels of government have shaped Pond Inlet.

As dessert made the rounds, Dr. Sharpe asked me a question I had not thought about in a long time: “Tell me Paul, what did Pond Inlet mean to you?”. Huh, good question … I went about reflecting on how the beauty of the community, the Inuit family I lived with and the people in general shaped perspectives on cultural openness, the diversity of Canada, the appreciation for what I have and the love of travel that I try and espouse on to the next generation – my daughters. The answer, of course, was honest, but didn’t seem to do the experience justice.

It wasn’t until Tom, a former classmate, spoke up that I came to a realization that I’d never come to before. Tom, a devil’s advocate extraordinaire and master at driving towards maximum efficiency, asked “So did you really have to go all the way up there to write that paper – to come up with the conclusions you did?”. With that I got a lot more passionate about things, my voice rose, I leaned forward in my chair because this is what I do now as an economic development consultant. I responded that while what the data says is important and some conclusions can be drawn from it, it’s not until you get into the community and talk to people and read their body language that you begin to understand their hopes, dreams, challenges, worries and fears. What the people who care about their community think about their community.

My thesis concluded that in Pond Inlet it was the local and regional level policies and initiatives that had the most significant positive impact on the community – and now I was beginning to appreciate that Pond Inlet was where I first realized this. Without knowing then (and maybe not for nearly 20 years) Pond Inlet lit that fire which still burns in me. Pond Inlet led me to 11 years of work as a municipal economic developer because I believed I was making a difference. Pond Inlet has led me to the last 6 years of my life where I know that my clients believe they are making a difference and looking for my help in making that difference even more pronounced.

Before that Saturday I always appreciated that I had a lot to thank Dr. Sharpe for, but now I realize I have so much more to be grateful for. He gave me the match that lit the fire!