Interview with Lauren Millier on Economic Development and Urban Planning

Lauren Millier, Vice President of MDB Insight in Toronto, Canada, in this interview shares her thoughts on the economic development of cities, with a special focus on frequent challenges and how to measure impact.

This interview is part of a special series with economic development professionals, in collaboration with the International Economic Development Council. Previous interviews of this series include Carlos Delgado and Gene DePrez.

Learn about:

  • Economic development: what it is all about;
  • Which challenges the city of London (Canada) faces regarding its economic development;
  • How economic development links to place branding;
  • 3 tips for 'ordinary' small towns on how to reinforce their image;
  • How to measure economic development success.

Lauren, with your background in urban planning, what led you to become an economic development consultant?

Wanting to draw a better connection between the long-range planning that was occurring and the economic growth potential of a community. I felt that the current approach of “if we build it, it will come” was problematic for some communities and was exposing them to a level of risk that needed to be rethought.

I also saw a gap in the consultation and engagement that was occurring with the broader business community, and the lack of attention to growth and technology trends that impact a community over the long term.

How has your experience in urban planning shaped your view of economic development, and how would you define it (ED) in your own words? 

I take a much more integrated approach to economic development strategic planning – I aim to understand the need to address labour demand and supply, quality of life considerations, implications for the built environment and the need to have the priorities of Council clearly articulated and reflected in a project.

Economic development is the process by which a level of government can increase the standard of living of its residents. This is accomplished by improving the economic, social and political well-being of a community (e.g. better jobs, better pay, better community).

What would you say are the common problems that make collaboration between urban planners and economic developers difficult?

Not sure I would agree that collaboration is difficult. Perhaps it’s just that many communities don’t think to engage their economic development professionals, or perhaps don't understand the value they can offer. There certainly needs to be a greater level of discussion between the departments as municipalities that do benefit from a stronger community – such as how to plan for downtown revitalization, how to approach built form and street animation in a way that attracts investors, businesses and consumers. And to ensure that the competitiveness of a community is informed by supportive land use policies and incentives.

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The Editorial Team

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