Chet Greason email@example.com
According to a visiting consultant, 81 companies produce products that are digital in nature in Stratford.
The city is hoping to better understand what’s needed to capitalize on this trend, and to get an idea of what the Stratford of 20 years from now might look like.
That’s why SEED Co. (Stratford Economic Enterprise Development Corporation) held an open forum on the city’s digital future on Wednesday, Feb. 11 at the University of Waterloo Stratford campus. The event was part of an ongoing study to assess opportunities in the industry here in Stratford. SEED Co. has partnered with consultancy firm Nordicity to help gather and process the data.
Marlene Coffey of SEED Co. said the goal is to work with businesses in order to keep them here and to help them grow. She cited the Stratford Festival and the Canadian Dairy XPO as examples relevant to Stratford’s digital economy.
“This is the first step in an ongoing conversation about Stratford’s digital future,” she said.
The evening included presentations by three of Stratford’s own media companies: trending.info, a service that curates social media, compiling mentions from multiple platforms on one widget; Powerline Films, producers who specialize in documentaries, drama, and animation; and Ballinran Entertainment, a production company that is making waves with its documentaries available on platforms from Netflix to HBO.
Randy Huitema, founder and CEO of trending.info, said that support from local government makes Stratford a great place to start a business.
Simon Brothers of Powerline Films, who grew up in Stratford, said he was drawn back to the city because of a unique quality of life like “no other in an Ontario city under 30,000.”
“Connections made in Stratford lead to bigger things,” he said, citing numerous examples of jobs his company has found thanks to relationships made here in the city. For example, a contact made during an art installation at Gallery Stratford led to Powerline working with the Ontario Arts Council.
Craig Thompson, of Ballinran Entertainment, also grew up here. While his business is celebrating its 20th anniversary, he said Canada still has a long way to go in terms of media infrastructure.
“There are limits on foreign investments in culture-based companies,” he explained in an interview following his presentation. “It makes it hard to finance.”
He noted that he’s often left completing post-production in Toronto or in the US due to a lack of accessible services. While Canada’s policies regarding cultural products have made the industry was it is today, he also noted there are some changes that need to be made.
“If we remain small or medium sized and we keep competing with giants, it makes it very difficult.”
As for Stratford, he said youth retention is key to providing the city with the digital infrastructure it needs. He said he’s worked with extremely talented Stratford Central students in the past.
“But there are no jobs to sustain them here,” he added.
Following the presentations, the crowd split into three large groups for discussions. One group focussed on the political realm, one on economics, and one on the social level. Attendees chatted away on what they thought were Stratford’s strong and weak points while Nordicity representatives took notes. Topics discussed included the economic divide, illiteracy, filling retail space, debt, a perceived “outsider versus insider” mentality, and the need for a Starbucks location.
“We had a good conversation about the elderly,” reported Christy Bertrand, who was a part of the social group. She explained how, should older members of the population become more digitally literate, programs like Skype can help keep them connected to their friends, family, and community, saving them from isolation and keeping them in their homes longer. The same goes for people living with barriers or disabilities.
“We talked about opening up WiFi for free everywhere … being able to access it in shops in Stratford,” Bertrand said.
The issue she felt the most affinity for, however, was the need for the city to hire a communications director.
“People were saying (about tonight’s event), ‘I didn’t know about this!’” she said. “There’s no cohesive voice for Stratford.
“If I’m not following eight different social networks, I’m not going to get that information.”