I read with great interest a piece on the Brandon First website on how Economic Development and Brandon First work to attract events to our community. It has long been something I feel our city is well positioned to be at the forefront on.
There are a number of factors that contribute to our potential of growing the idea of “Brandon, The Event City”.
1. Proximity and Geographic location- Our city is fairly well-suited for western based conference and event traffic. Daily air service in and out of the community is integral for ease of access making Brandon well suited for event travel. Further to that, the sheer proximity of the hotel accommodations in our city would be beneficial to conference goers looking to fill more than the available number of rooms in a single hotel.
2. The Brandon Event Hosting Grant Program makes event consideration more palpable as far as a bottom line. By providing opportunities to give back to events it makes coming to Brandon a more enticing option when considering event travel. Although somewhat contentious at the time, the accommodation fee has made our city more competitive by providing incentives and opportunities to enhance the current offerings of a particular event.
3. Most importantly, the Keystone Centre. You would be hard pressed to find a better venue in a city our size across western Canada. The sheer square footage under one roof makes the Keystone Centre second to none. As a member of city council, I would view this as one of the most important assets in our region. We must protect and continue to grow the Keystone if Brandon is to further harness our event hosting potential. Over the last number of years, the City of Brandon has been held in limbo at times waiting for provincial funding dollars to flow to the centre. In looking at its annual economic impact on the region (north of $60 million), we must continue to lobby our provincial counterparts for long-term, stable funding agreements and increased opportunities for investment in this provincial asset. Back when I was freelancing with the Brandon Sun I wrote a number of times on the need for a dedicated, long-term funding agreement at the Keystone Centre, this one, in particular, stands out (February 1, 2015- Dedicated fund for Keystone Centre makes sense).
So where do we go from here? I struggle at times with the idea of whether Brandon should harness the “big-town” or the “small city” mentality, with it being OK for us to be a little bit of both. How can we as Brandonites approach growth and work to become an attraction that may cause others to flow to our city as a destination? Event hosting and the tourism byproduct that comes from that is a relatively safe way to pull the ship in a necessary direction. Further, by supporting events based opportunities, it has in the past, brought infrastructure spin-offs to our community as well.
Making growth based decisions through an economic development lens is integral to some of the work of a city council. What does the decision do to help grow our city? and how would a particular decision make us more appealing to further investment in Brandon? Two insights as to how I would approach some of the decision making at the council table. Lastly, do I think we can we grow the opportunities available to us as a result of focusing on Brandon becoming known as an event city? Absolutely.
I think Sandy Trudel said it best in the piece noting that “event tourism compared to other segments of the tourism market generates the greatest level of economic return for a host community”. Without a doubt, this is the case. Whether it is money spent in local restaurants, shopping, entertainment or tourist destinations, event money is “found money” for our community and its business and service offerings. I view this as something we must ratchet up as we strive to become “Brandon, the Event City”.
I welcome your thoughts and feedback on this piece.