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Shaping up Southern Ontario’s business landscape James Meddings

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James MeddingsJames Meddings was appointed President of the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) on October 31, 2016.

James served as Assistant Deputy Minister of Policy and Strategic Direction at Western Economic Diversification from 2011- 2016 and Vice President, Individual Learning and later Vice President, Organizational Leadership at the Canada School of Public Service from 2006 to 2011.

In his 28 years of federal public service Mr. Meddings has also held positions as Director General, Policy and Corporate Affairs, at the Meteorological Service of Canada; Director General, Parliamentary and Corporate Affairs, Human Resources Development Canada; Policy Analyst at the Privy Council Office, and Advisor to the Chief Commissioner, at the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

Prior to joining the federal public service, Mr. Meddings taught economics and political science in public and private schools in the United Kingdom and Canada.

Mr. Meddings has a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Economic and Social Studies from the University of East Anglia; a Post Graduate Certificate in Education from the University of Birmingham; and, a Masters in Public Policy and Public Administration from Concordia University.

He is married and lives in Almonte, Ontario with his wife Susie Quackenbush and their four children: Sam, Harry, Max and Georgia.

As President of the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario, can you tell us about your role to give our readers a better idea of what your responsibilities are?

As President, a job I was appointed to almost three years ago, I have the great privilege of leading an Agency that helps Canadians living and working in the region to seize opportunities created by the innovation economy. FedDev Ontario is a small Agency, with just over 240 employees, but it delivers on a big mandate.

With our headquarters in Waterloo and offices in Toronto, Peterborough and Ottawa, we deliver programs and services to support Canadian SME’s to grow and scale and build on the region’s competitive advantages to spur innovation across Southern Ontario.

The majority of my time is spent meeting with stakeholders and helping to shape and deliver our programs and services to meet the needs of businesses, organizations and communities in the region.  Over the last six weeks, we completed more than 20 stakeholder roundtables across rural and urban communities to discuss the key strengths, challenges and opportunities for businesses and communities to innovate and grow, which will help guide us in our future partnerships and investments.

The Agency continues to deliver impressive results, which can be seen in southern Ontario businesses that are creating innovative technologies, improving their productivity, growing their revenues, and in the economic advancement of communities across southern Ontario. I encourage you to take a look at some of our success stories.

I am proud to say that in Budget 2019, we were provided permanent funding. I view this as a validation of the impact the Agency has had since it was created 10 years ago.  As a permanent Agency, FedDev Ontario will be a stable long-term partner in supporting innovation and economic growth in, I would argue, Canada’s most vital and dynamic region.

Not only are we committed to making a difference in the region, we are also committed to being a model of a respectful workplace, that attracts and develops talent, creates an environment where employees are challenged to be innovative and creative in an organization that celebrates learning and excellence. This is why I and my Executive team were delighted to see that we were ranked in the top 10 best places to work in the federal government in a recent article in the Hill Times.

You have over 28 years of experience in the federal public service. How do you believe your expertise in public service has prepared you for your current role?

I have worked at several departments, starting my career at the Canadian Human Rights Commission, followed by increasingly challenging jobs at the Privy Council Office, Human Resources Development Canada, Environment Canada, the Canada School of Public Service, and Western Economic Diversification.  It was at WD, as the ADM Policy, where I was exposed to regional economic development and got to see first-hand that, by working closely with businesses and key stakeholders, you can make a big difference on a large scale.

Over the years, I have learned that creating a culture of respect and excellence ensures a safe and positive workplace—one where employees feel engaged and inspired. That is what I continue to foster at FedDev Ontario. The work staff does is rewarding and challenging. And there are so many bright, interesting people with whom we engage who are trying to grow their companies, scale their businesses, adopt technology, increase productivity and penetrate new markets. They are creating the jobs of the new economy and Agency staff has a chance to see directly the impact of the important work they do. These are interesting and hugely rewarding public service jobs.

Can you tell us about some of the ways that FedDev Ontario is helping small businesses grow and succeed?

I am constantly reminded of the great work that the Agency does to drive growth. We have invested almost $2 billion in the region since our creation in 2009. We have supported nearly 13,000 businesses and organizations. Over 31,000 jobs have been created and maintained since 2014, leveraging $3.6 billion in partner funding and resulting in nearly 1500 commercialized products. Our investments are having a real impact on the people, businesses and communities across the region.

Building on these results, with over $1 billion in funding over the next five years, FedDev Ontario will make investments that drive innovation and growth in the region. We recently restructured our programs into three simplified funding streams that were designed to help businesses and entrepreneurs scale-up, develop southern Ontario’s innovation ecosystem and strengthen communities across the region. Through the streams, we support the commercialization of new technologies, technology adoption and adaptation, scale up and market growth and expansion. We bring together various stakeholders to create clusters and bolster supply chains. We also provide community economic development and diversification investments for small and rural communities in southern Ontario, including the recently allocated $100 million of FedDev Ontario’s core funding for projects that drive innovation and growth in rural southern Ontario.

We also deliver key national programming across the region. For example, over the last year, we have delivered:

-over $35 million to deliver support for women entrepreneurs in southern Ontario

-more than $39 million through the new Steel and Aluminum Initiative

-more than $11 million to deliver the Canadian Experiences Fund

FedDev Ontario provides several programs and services that contribute towards economic growth and support innovation. Would you say that innovation and economic growth go hand in hand? Why?

Innovation is the key driver of economic growth. The productivity improvements that come from cutting-edge innovation allow us to be more competitive and unlock growth potential.

As the economy becomes increasingly digital, knowledge-intensive and global, the creation of new technology, products and processes will enable Canadian SMEs to compete. In addition, with clean growth becoming increasingly important, innovation will be critical to getting the most out of limited resources and to fostering long-term sustainable growth.

What is the best program and/or service that FedDev offers that can help small business owners grow their business? 

FedDev Ontario offers range programs and services to grow businesses, cultivate strong partnerships and build strong communities across the region. The program and/or service that best serves a business depend on its stage of growth and its specific needs.

If we don’t have programming that is applicable, our knowledgeable staff can help entrepreneurs and organizations path find other federal and local business support. For example, we work with other departments and stakeholders under the Accelerated Growth Service and with aerospace and defense SMEs under the Industrial and Technological Benefits Policy.

The Agency also works with local partners and economic development organizations that understand the unique challenges in rural communities.

The region of Southern Ontario is an important contributor to Canada’s economic growth and accounts for approximately 40% of the Canadian GDP. What do you believe are the main factors that play in hand here?

As the global economic landscape evolves, strong regional economies are essential for Canada’s success and sustainability.

As Canada’s most populous region – home to 13.3 million residents living in 288 urban and rural communities − southern Ontario is a key contributor to our nation’s economy and is Canada’s most dynamic innovation ecosystem. It’s home to a diverse and talented workforce, world-class post-secondary and research institutions, and a vibrant start-up ecosystem. The region boasts a rich industrial heritage, globally connected firms, and ICT strengths in emerging areas that will be critical for the digital economy of the future, such as advanced manufacturing, cyber security, regenerative medicine/bio-technologies, and quantum computing.

To continue as a major driver of Canada’s economic growth, the region must increase business investment in leading-technology and support firm scale-up with better access to risk capital. These are key factors to grow competitive companies in Ontario, promote export growth, and expand global reach.

The Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario plays a crucial role in the development of innovative systems that can contribute towards the growth and development of the Canadian economy. What are some of the strategies that the agency uses when it comes to developing successful programs and services that can help with innovative systems?

Canada’s regional development agencies (RDAs) are one of the four national innovation platforms identified to provide the support needed for Canadian businesses to succeed. Along with the Industrial Research Assistance Program, the Strategic Innovation Fund and the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service, RDAs support high-potential Canadian businesses by providing them with the resources, tools and knowledge they need to scale up and expand into new markets.

FedDev Ontario’s programs target the unique needs of the region’s communities and economy, and the Agency works to identify strategic collaborations and solutions to local challenges and opportunities.

Based on a review of our programming and feedback received from clients, we created a single online application form and streamlined our initiatives into three simplified funding streams, designed to meet the needs of our innovators and job creators, and create a more diverse, inclusive regional economy that supports long-term growth and a better quality of life for Canadians.

This new programming supports innovative projects in southern Ontario that will:

  • Increase the number of high-growth firms.
  • Strengthen key networks to build on areas of regional innovation strength.
  • Increase the commercialization of new and innovative technologies, products or processes.
  • Increase business investments in the adoption/adaptation of leading-edge technologies.
  • Create and maintain highly skilled jobs.
  • Increase the value of exports.
  • Promote inclusive growth and participation of traditionally underrepresented groups such as women, Indigenous and young entrepreneurs.
  • Strengthen opportunities and networks to drive growth, and support the attraction and retention of businesses and talent to southern Ontario’s smaller communities and rural areas.

FedDev also supports the commercialization of new technologies. How important do you believe it is to encourage the retailing of new technologies? How can this benefit small business owners?

The commercialization of new technologies by SMEs is central to improving our competitiveness on the global stage. It is a catalyst for the development and growth of new businesses, high-value jobs, and long-term economic prosperity. It also enables businesses to compete in today’s digital, knowledge-intensive global economy, leads to technology spillovers, strengthened clusters, new markets for innovative products and processes, and furthers investments into Canada’s R&D. That is why commercialization is one of the key objectives of FedDev Ontario’s programming.

In your opinion, what would you say is the biggest challenge that small business owners face when it comes to innovating new products and how can FedDev help them overcome these challenges?

In today’s global economy, Canadian SMEs are challenged to scale up. They often point to a lack of access to risk capital that can help them adopt technologies, commercialize products and improve their productivity performance. FedDev Ontario provides southern Ontario SMEs with access to capital, through zero-interest financial contributions, for projects aimed at investing in the adoption of cutting-edge technologies, commercializing innovative products/services, significantly scaling-up, improving productivity, and developing and/or expanding into new markets.

The Agency’s investments in southern Ontario’s ecosystem also indirectly help start-ups and entrepreneurs with growth potential access supports and services they need to build customer bases, attract talent, promote business productivity and expand.

On a final note, prior to joining the federal public service, you used to teach economics and political science in public and private schools within Canada and the UK. What made you decide to make the switch and join the federal public service?

I came to Canada as a young teacher on a one-year contract and quickly fell in love with Canada, its beauty, the diversity of its people and its potential. The opportunity to work at the Canadian Human Rights Commission was an amazing one, and it exposed me to the positive influence and impact the public service has on its communities and people. Over the following 29 years, I have been able to contribute to the development and implementation of social and economic policies and programs and to see the impact of that work. The work is always challenging and engaging, and it’s incredibly satisfying to work every day with people committed to making a difference in the lives of Canadians.



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