Workforce WindsorEssex interviews different professionals for an inside look into their work.
We spoke with Wendy, who is the Manager of Business Retention & Expansion at WindsorEssex Economic Development Corporation (WE EDC). You can learn even more about Economists and Economic Policy Researchers and Analysts through our detailed Career Profiles.
What does an average day look like for you?
I don’t really have a typical day. However, it usually involves some time spent answering questions from our local companies (ie. regarding available government programming, where to find information, who to ask for various information), making connections between our clients and potential new opportunities, doing research to support clients, developing programming to support them, attending meetings with other organizations in the community, etc. Pre-COVID there would typically be at least one or two site visits to companies per week to learn more about their operations and what we can do to assist them.
Why and when did you choose this career?
I initially started working for WE EDC in a support role, gathering and organizing statistics on the region, producing reports and presentations, etc. Working for an economic development organization was interesting to me given that I had recently graduated from university in a related field and I felt that my organizational skills and interest in statistics were a good fit. I later transitioned into client-facing roles as the opportunities presented themselves.
What was your education/training? Any additional training for your current position?
I have a BA in Honours Geography with a specialization in Urban Development from Western University. I also completed the Economic Developers Association of Canada’s certification program (through the University of Waterloo) and achieved EcD certification. To maintain the certification I am required to complete a certain number of courses over every three year period.
What is the best part of your job?
My favourite part of my job is when I can make a connection for a company that provides them with an opportunity they would not otherwise have had. For example, sometimes we are contacted by a Trade Commissioner or other government official who is aware of a company looking for new supplier. If I can find them a local company that can fit the bill, that brings new business to that company and is a win for everyone.
What is something challenging about your job?
The most difficult part of the job is when I can’t help a client with a problem. Sometimes they need financing that is just not available or are looking for an opportunity that doesn’t align with their capabilities. I don’t like saying, “There’s nothing I can do to help you.” I always try to find something helpful.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned on the job?
I think the greatest lesson is how very important connections are. It’s great to have a lot of knowledge yourself, but I think it’s even better to know who to ask when you don’t know something or who can help in a particular situation.
What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing the career?
I would say that to be successful in economic development, you need to know a little bit about a lot of different things. For example, you don’t have to know how to actually manufacture a product, but you need to know what’s important to that manufacturer (or any other type of business). You also need to know a lot about your community and its strengths. In order to properly market your community or to attract new investment, you need to know why it’s a good place to do business and what types of businesses are likely to thrive there. It’s important to be well-connected to your community.
What is something someone may be surprised to learn about your job?
I’m not sure if this is surprising or not, but there is a roughly 50/50 split between men and women working in economic development now. However, when I go to meetings with companies, I am almost always the only woman in the meeting. That may be because of the make-up of our business community here (ie. manufacturing is the largest sector).
How would you say COVID-19 has affected your day-to-day work?
Working from home has advantages and disadvantages. I think that virtual meetings are never as good as in-person meetings; however, it’s possible to squeeze more meetings into a day when you don’t have to drive to them. The biggest disadvantage for me, I think, is not being able to visit our clients and see their operations in person. We also host a number of events, both large and small, and although it’s possible to have a greater number of attendees at virtual events because no travel is involved, we don’t get the opportunity to really connect international visitors to local companies because they can’t visit them while they are here.
What has it been like to be an Essential Worker during a world-wide pandemic? Has your workplace added additional safety measures?
I’m not sure that this question applies to me. We are not technically essential workers although we have continued to work during this time. For the Business Retention & Expansion team, at the beginning of the pandemic we were busier than we had ever been, since we were constantly responding to, and meeting with, companies that wanted to help, wanted to produce PPE or hand sanitizer, needed help to remain open etc.
Have you experienced loss or personal struggles since the beginning of the pandemic? How have you and your co-workers coped with working through the shut-down?
I haven’t had any personal loss or struggles. Communication with my colleagues has changed, though, and even though we have regular meetings, it’s not quite the same as walking down the hall to speak with someone. I understand that there are various levels of concern about coming back to the office to work on a regular basis, despite safety protocols that will be required.
how has being an essential worker during the pandemic has made this more personally fulfilling career?
Although we are not essential workers, by definition, it has been fulfilling to help companies pivot to produce items related to the pandemic. It has been heartwarming to see companies working together to solve problems and sharing information even with companies that they would normally compete with. I have helped to make connections between companies who would not otherwise ever have worked together.
Thank you to Wendy for the interview, and for supplying images.
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