The following guest editorial is from Bruce Stewart of Troy Media. The original version can be found here
A community guide to creating jobs . . . all it takes is one old building of a reasonable size with a number of merchants to share the space
TORONTO, ON – “Where are the jobs?” That’s a comment you can hear over coffee from one end of Canada to the other. We look at our children and wonder where they’ll work. We look at those of us forced into early retirement because of closures and layoffs and wonder the same for ourselves.
A little creativity is all that’s required, and we’ll have lots of work for everyone.
Major employers are nice to have: it’s why town and city councils constantly vote to provide incentives to attract them. The trouble is that major employers don’t have the same commitment to the community and its future as local employers do. So how do we make more local opportunity?
Start thinking about how to do things in common.
One idea is to share the risk on space. New ventures are constantly stretched financially. Often an idea can’t go ahead because there isn’t a small enough space available to make it work. The result? Nothing happens.
Toronto’s Blue Banana market, part of Kensington Market, brings tens of small merchants together under one (larger) roof. Almost all of these would not be viable businesses if they each had to find and rent their own business premises. (Most don’t need a standard storefront anyway: they’d have to commit to more than they need just to get something.)
By sharing space, each of the merchants gets a footprint that’s “right-sized for them”. The button vendor – who makes some of the buttons and buys in a small inventory of others – needs all of 100 sq. ft. to have a viable business, The post card vendor, 200 sq. ft. Some of the merchants handling clothing or art works take more space, almost store-sized.
They also get a lot of cross-traffic: once you’re in the Blue Banana, the tendency is to wander around a bit: five more steps usually gives you something new and different to look at. Most people who buy once they’re inside buy from more than one vendor.
Some vendors have food service: there’s a coffee bar, a little sandwich place. That’s another part of the mix that keeps people coming in (the food and drink is placed up by the entrance, to entice people on the sidewalk to come in – and to keep the rest of the space clean). The whole thing becomes like a permanent “market place”.
All it takes is one old building of a reasonable size. Just as the startup community uses shared space to provide early stage offices – renting as little as a desk – this allows people to create their own job by making things of use to others in their community, or selling some type of goods that are a passion for them, all at low risk.
The owner of the facility (which could be a co-operative, a shared facility that might finance the initial creation by selling small bonds that pay back out of the rental incomes, or raising the money using a crowd funding facility like Indiegogo or Kickstarter, or working with a local credit union) has much lower risk: it’s easier to turn over a failed venture’s space than it is to redecorate a whole storefront, and it’s highly unlikely that most ventures will end simultaneously, meaning that it’s likely to persist where individual efforts might fail.
Some of the vendors at Blue Banana do light manufacturing work (wrought-iron work, or woodwork) to order: their retail “space” is simply to expose their work to others, and to accept orders. Garages, outbuildings or industrial space is used to do the actual construction. A shared space, therefore, doesn’t have to be just “traditional retail” in nature.
Some participants may graduate to full storefronts of their own – helping to revitalize the town centre. Others may never do so, but a vibrant “place to go” that makes it way helps others see the value of locating in town, not on the outskirts. Communities “on the grow” in this way become an attractor to more ideas, from more sources, thus diversifying their local economy, and insulating themselves against a sudden move by a major employer that they depend on.
The takeaway for our communities is to think differently about economic development. Remember New York City: every three or four blocks the same pattern of small shops repeats itself, because each serves a “village” of a few blocks. These ventures don’t have to be extraordinary, or depend on radical ideas: we all need basic services alongside the creative ideas.
Jobs? They’re ours for the making. Let’s start creating the space for work to grow.
Troy Media columnist Bruce A Stewart is a Toronto-based management consultant. You can reach him at