The trophy case is getting rather crowded at the Atikokan Economic Development Corp.
Earlier this month, the AEDC won two more honours from the Economic Developers Council of Ontario (EDCO), and staffer Gord Knowles was named one of the profession’s ‘40 under 40’ honourees.
The 2016 EDCO awards recognized excellence in the use of technology and new media for the AEDC’s development of the VisitAtikokan.ca tourism website, and outstanding regional and cross-border collaboration for the whole Tourism Atikokan program. (The AEDC also won the latter award in 2014, for its leadership in the creation of the Heart of the Continent Partnership.)
“There were over 400 people at the dinner, and when they saw what we had done [with Tourism Atikokan], they were very impressed,” said Knowles last week. “These are people with tourist organizations that have staffs of thirty. But you have to do it this way in the North – it’s all about collaboration.”
Recognizing that tourism was something of an orphan in the economic development picture here, Knowles and fellow staffer Katie Hannon put together a proposal for Tourism Atikokan in 2015. It called for the development of a new community branding (which was later developed by a Thunder Bay firm, Atikokan… Naturally Wild), and a strong on-line presence that would attract visitors to Atikokan. They then went to the regional tourism organization (Tourism Northern Ontario), the Town, and the AEDC and secured $40,000 in funding.
Since the first website launched in late 2015, VisitAtikokan.ca has reached almost a million people, generated over 300,000 shares, likes, and comments, and drawn over 70,000 video views.
“This is people from all over the world – everywhere but Antarctica,” said Knowles.
The awards were presented at EDCO’s 60th annual conference in Toronto February 9.
“Participating in EDCO’s Awards Program holds communities to a higher standard throughout the year,” said Christina Kakaflikas, EDCO 2017 president. “Allowing communities to learn about winning projects and the ability to compare efforts maintains the need for excellence across the province and throughout all economic development initiatives. Helping communities raise their profile, and investment and tourism opportunities is a big part of what EDCO does.”
40 under 40
The ‘40 under 40’ program is managed by Development Counsellors International (DCI), a New York-based firm that specializes in economic development. It has worked for more than 400 cities, regions, states, and countries since it was established in 1960.
Variations on the ‘40 under 40’ theme are common across many professional fields, and are designed to encourage collaboration and professional development.
Knowles was chosen for his commitment to the field, his creative approach to problem solving, and his willingness to serve.
Since working a FedNor internship at the AEDC a decade ago, he has completed a first rate program of economic development training and education through the University of Waterloo, the International Economic Developers Council, the Asia Pacific Economic Corp., and the Community Futures Leadership Institute. He was the first person in Ontario to attain both business analyst and community economic development coordinator basic certification.
As a community development officer, he has worked with dozens of clients in Atikokan, Upsala, and Seine River First Nation to launch a number of successful start-ups, and worked in part to disburse over $4.5 million in small business investment here since 2010.
Knowles took a lead role in advancing the Heart of the Continent Partnership, and has been instrumental in its growth and development over the past five years. He was heavily involved in the creation of its geo-tourism website, a partnership with National Geographic.
It was his work on those projects that convinced him Atikokan need to develop a stronger on-line presence in tourism promotion, and that led to the Tourism Atikokan project. He’s now advocating for the creation of a community-driven tourism board.
Professionally, he has never hesitated to get involved, and has or is now serving bodies ranging from Community Futures Ontario, Tourism Northern Ontario, and EDCO. The father of three, he’s also very involved in the community.
Knowles was one of three Canadians to make DCI’s 40 under 40 list. The others were Jenna Sudds of the Kanata North Business Assoc. and John McPherson of the Vancouver Economic Commission.
“The people chosen by the selection committee represent a bright future for the economic development world,” said Andy Levine, president of DCI. “They are a new breed of results-driven place makers. We’re very pleased to see Gord among the winners.”
“I was impressed by the energy and dedication of these developers,” said Zach Patton, editor of Governing magazine and 40 Under 40 selection committee member. “Their passion for good economic development really stood out in their smart innovations, thoughtful programs, and cool ideas.”