Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

Partnering for Economic Development: How Town-Gown Relations Impact Local Economic Development in Small and Medium Cities

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

Partnering for Economic Development: How Town-Gown Relations Impact Local Economic Development in Small and Medium Cities

Article excerpt


Universities play an increasingly prominent role in shaping regional, social, and economic development. They are "pivotal component[s] of an underlying infrastructure for innovation on which the system of knowledge-based capitalism draws" (Florida & Cohen, 1999, p. 604). Local intellectual and knowledge creation is of primary importance for regional economic development (Russo, van den Berg, & Lavanga, 2007), and universities stimulate this development by providing local employment and also through the establishment of local knowledge networks and research and development strategies (Huggins & Cooke, 1997; Huggins, Jones, & Upton, 2008). The evolution of university-industry knowledge incubators are indicative of this process (Etzkowitz, 2002).

In Canada, universities play an increasingly central role in the economic development of mid-sized cities. With unprecedented leverage in both land and labour markets, urban and semi-urban universities have partnered with city councils to redraw local social and economic geographies. These partnerships are predominant in Ontario, where the consequences of global economic restructuring (e.g., the erosion of the manufacturing sector and the rise in service-based industries) are particularly apparent. Strategic town-gown partnerships, designed to support local economic development by enticing recent graduates to live and work in the locality, are now in place across the province.

For some communities, tumultuous relationships between the university administration and the surrounding community have been a barrier to the university-driven approach to economic growth and the universities' abilities to influence a community's economic geography (Massey & Gouthro, 2011). In response to a growing awareness of the economic, social, and cultural benefits of harnessing a university's knowledge-based resources, Ontario communities have begun to address these historically strained town- gown relations. Examples of partnerships developed in recent years include: (a) the strategic agreement between the London Municipal Council and the University of Western Ontario, whereby the Mayor of London now serves on the board of governors for the university; (b) the Town and Gown Committee of the City of Waterloo, which is comprised of representatives from the cities of Waterloo and Kitchener, the two local universities - the University of Waterloo and Wilfred Laurier University - and the satellite campus of Conestoga College; (c) the Town and Gown Committee of the City of Windsor, with representatives from the University of Windsor and St. Clair College; (d) the Town and Gown Advisory Committee of the City of Brantford, with representatives from Wilfred Laurier University at Brantford, Nipissing University, and Mohawk College; and (e) the 2010 town-gown strategic plan developed between the City of Kingston, the Kingston Economic Development Corporation (KEDCO), and Queen's University.

Town-gown relations are a pressing priority for city governments and university administrations. For city governments, universities hold a key to economic development (Mullin & Kotval, 2012). For universities, partnerships with the local community are politically important. In Ontario, the call for universities to demonstrate their "regional relevance," and discussion about the benefits of greater differentiation within Ontario's university sector (Weingarten & Deller, 2010), have pressured institutions to demonstrate how they support the local community and economy. One of the most common measures of this impact is the proportion of university students who remain in the local area after graduation. In the new knowledge-based economy, or what Florida (2002) termed the "creative economy," university graduates are the cornerstone of local economic development strategies.

Across Ontario, mid-sized regional towns and cities are increasingly implementing strategic plans that seek specifically to attract and retain university graduates. …

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