The business case for an Edmonton story

What has “Keep Austin Weird” been worth to the capital of Texas?

It’s improper to say a three-word story transformed Austin. It was true before anyone said it out loud. The story was already there but no one had articulated it. The story’s product: first T-shirts and bumper stickers then a call to action, a provocation, a shared mission: projects. Then wider acceptance, inside the city. Pride. Marketing: much of it through earned media.

Finally, reputation.

It’s the reputation aspect that has been worth hundreds of millions if not billions to what was formerly known as a quiet government and university town with a blue collar base, an unusually good arts scene, and extreme weather.

Today, if you want to start a business or find a thrilling career, Austin will be in your top ten. Your top five if you don’t want to live in a mega-city.

Edmonton’s reputation problem is an internal problem. We want a call to action, a provocation, a shared mission. We all want to be part of something larger than ourselves. We want meaning. Projects are ways to channel our creativity. We want to be proud of our city. We want something to say when people ask “Why Edmonton?” that is true and inspiring and reaches back into our heritage.

Ask the provost of the University of Alberta, or the CEOs of Edmonton’s large and small corporations, or the mayor or the city manager or the new president of Edmonton Economic Development about our reputation problem. They want to bring talented and highly skilled people to Edmonton, and investors. What do they say? What can they say?

I outlined it in the post Audacity in Edmonton. We can use existing examples but we can also start proving it with our own Make Something Edmonton projects.

But if a Make Something Edmonton campaign is going to work, it can’t simply be about government support. The business community will have to be involved, and it’s up to individual Edmontonians who have ideas to do something with their ideas.

Pitch a business.

Thanks to our culture and our economy, Edmonton is the best place in North America to make something from the ground up.

Let’s prove it.

For a case study, consider What the Truck?

In June, 2011, Mack Male and Sharon Yeo decided to inspire an Edmonton version of San Francisco’s first food truck festival.

“We loved it, and decided this is something that should happen in Edmonton,” Mack said this week, en route to the airport. “Instead of waiting for someone to do it for us we thought: let’s do it ourselves.”

They both have jobs. There was no money in it, for them. The municipal rules and regulations did not support food trucks and street vendors. But the road from idea to reality in Edmonton, if you want to do something, is short. And it ought to be shorter.

Mack and Sharon spoke to the vendors. They wanted the festival to be in a parking lot, first, and spoke to some businesses. The businesses didn’t understand, not at first.

What’s in it for us? 

So they found a public space, Beaver Hills Park on Jasper Avenue, and on a rainy day in June 2011 they launched it with a few trucks and a few hundred people. The City of Edmonton saw the potential in it, and closed a street for the next one.

By the summer of 2012, What the Truck? was so big that any negative feedback was about long lines, too many people, and chaos. It’s economic development, supporting entrepreneurs and Edmonton-area farmers. The number of food trucks has more than doubled and the crowds have grown exponentially, into the thousands.

“People wanted to help,” said Mack. “And if you look at this as an example, it’s a thing that didn’t cost much money.”

This week, the City of Edmonton announced it is loosening rules for street vendors and sidewalk cafés — making it easier and more profitable to start a food truck business or open a sidewalk café.

If Mack and Sharon had waited for new municipal rules, instead of just launching their idea, boldly and audaciously, it might never have happened. And it’s one more anecdote that proves Edmonton’s story.

The downside: businesses didn’t immediately say yes. This is what was missing in June, 2011, when Mack and Sharon pitched them: a shared mission, a shared story.

What’s in it for us?

Be ready with your answer.

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2 thoughts on “The business case for an Edmonton story

  1. Pingback: Spaceskydiving, beef and beloved newspapers | Edmonton Blog Watch | The Unknown Studio

  2. Pingback: Edmonton Made « magpietown

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