Rural Oxford Economic Development Corporation (EDC) was represented at the recent Smart Cities Connect Fall Conference and Expo in Washington, D.C. Rural Oxford EDC may seem like a small player when you look at similar organizations across North America, but to one area businessperson, having this organization represented with a group of economic experts was an easy decision.
Robert Maxwell is the CEO of TGT Solutions Inc., a company that first opened its doors in Stratford 28 years ago. The company features an expanding team of innovative professionals who encourage their clients to profit through technology. Robert was so impressed with the way Rural Oxford EDC performs its work that he asked Ronda to join him on a panel of experts.
Ronda Stewart is the Economic Development Officer at Rural Oxford EDC and said meeting Robert and his colleague at another conference has resulted in a prosperous relationship. “I met Robert and Pooja Mehndiratta at the Economic Developers Council of Ontario conference in 2020. We stayed in touch and continued networking as well as sharing some of the projects we had been doing at Rural Oxford. For example, our Welcome to Oxford County video series that was such a beautiful and professional showcase of all eight municipalities in the county. They were very impressed by the collaborative efforts in our projects, and they also liked that our governance model is smart and collaborative at its core.” Stewart added five of the eight local municipalities are pooling together resources to deliver a service to the rural townships in Oxford.
After their initial meeting, Robert was interested to learn more, “Ronda came to our booth, asked great questions, made great points and we established a rapport. We followed up after the event, learned more about Rural Oxford EDC, and came up with some ideas that we thought might be of interest to the organization.” He explained the way Rural Oxford EDC is operated results in all parties involved working toward a common economic development agenda. “This demonstrates a strong commitment to catering to the distinct needs of Oxford County’s rural economies. The organization creates a forum where relevant ideas can be shared, a methodical and targeted approach promoted and executed for the greater good of individual communities and the region as a whole.” He added the organization brings a refreshingly thoughtful, and prioritized approach to economic development.
In 2023, Ronda was invited to join a panel discussion titled Smart Governance and Community Engagement and said she brought a small-town lens to the conversation which had a very diverse makeup. “There were technology and industry leaders, so I was excited to bring that rural perspective and was curious to see how that might land amongst larger cities. I was pleasantly surprised when I engaged and met with people after the presentation. I thought I would be speaking to a number of large cities, but there was a balance, and some communities were of similar size to Oxford County with populations of 50,000 to 100,000.”
Robert explained that Ronda brought proof that smaller organizations can create results and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with larger and more fully funded organizations. “We invited a diverse group of participants such as the city of Pittsburgh and the state of Virginia as well as CEOs of international companies. Rural Oxford EDC presented a different model of operation which resonated with everyone there.” He added Ronda touched on the value of individual and longstanding relationships built on mutual respect and shared goals. “She offered insights on being impactful, fostering unity and shared prosperity through the pooling of resources. Her message resonated well with the audience.”
Anyone who attends a work conference always hopes to be able to bring something back to their organization. Ronda said that in her case, hearing different perspectives and how different communities engage as well as the questions asked to the panel has her creative thinking turned up. “I definitely came back with a curiosity to learn and try new approaches to engage with our communities. A lot of people think smart cities are technology-based but that isn’t always the case. There needs to be forward, critical, and strategic thinking. To engage, yes, many times you do need to leverage technology or bring in a new technology, but other times there just needs to be open dialogue and conversation.” She added she is taking a look at the work Rural Oxford EDC does to see if there are any other areas where they could collaborate.