Economic Development Leaders Named Among The Top 50 in North America
As North America continues to expand at a break-neck pace, so too do the number of young leaders looking to make an impact. North American mayors, senior executives, and policy-makers are coming together to celebrate the region’s economic development leaders at the annual Economic Development Leaders Summit on Saturday, Sept. 15. The Summit brings together visionaries, doers, and thinkers to identify and build on the region’s strengths.
The event spotlights the region’s top economic development leaders, including those in cities, states, and territories as well as foreign governments. The annual gathering, hosted by the Canadian Inter-governmental Conference, highlights the region’s talent and future leaders. More than 350 people from government, business, academia, and the community are expected to attend.
To learn what makes a good economic development leader, we turned to previous attendees and speakers at the Summit. Here are the top 50 economic development leaders from the North American region.
1. Nathan Sheets, Mayor, Regina
Nathan Sheets is the mayor of the largest city in the province of Saskatchewan. Regina is the economic driver of Saskatchewan, accounting for one in three jobs in the province. Saskatchewan has remained relatively stable during Sheets’s tenure as mayor, and he credits that in large part to his ability to build consensus and implement plans that have brought about major infrastructure investments, such as the $820-million interchange and two new thoroughfares.
Sheets has also championed the importance of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, which he believes will help create more jobs in the future. Since taking office in 2004, he has spearheaded an initiative to expand the number of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs in public schools in the city.
2. Darren Jessee, Deputy Mayor, Winnipeg
Deputy Mayor Darren Jessee leads the charge in Manitoba, where he is responsible for the economic development and operation of the city of Winnipeg. As the economic development officer for the city, Jessee’s job is to identify and implement opportunities for growth and improve the quality of life for the city’s more than 500,000 residents.
With a focus on innovation and job creation, the Manitoba government has invested heavily in the tech sector, spurring development in the city’s cluster of innovation and technology companies. In addition, the government has been a leader in areas such as paid sick leave and affordable housing.
3. Jaime Loe, Mayor and CEO, Tallahassee
As the mayor of Tallahassee, Fla., and a former Florida governor, Jaime Loe has had an impact on the state’s economy and the country’s landscape. Her focus as the CEO and executive vice president of the Florida rainy-day fund has been on supporting the state’s most vulnerable — children, the elderly, and people with disabilities — and increasing the fund’s investment in areas such as child care and Medicare.
As the CEO, she has also overseen the installation of state-of-the-art security cameras throughout the city. The cameras are part of a large-scale street-level security initiative that Loe spearheaded to address a high crime rate in the city.
4. Ron Burkett, Chairman and CEO, Avista Corp.
As the chairman and CEO of Avista, the largest municipally owned electric utility in the U.S., Burkett has a track record of innovation, collaboration, and success. As a former head of mission operations for the United States Air Force, Burkett brings a wealth of experience helping to shape public policy at a local and national level. As the CEO, he oversees a business that serves nearly 1 million people in 18 cities across seven states.
In addition to his public service, Burkett has overseen significant corporate transformation at Avista, including the launch of a cloud-based software platform that enables operational efficiency and operational security.
5. Kathy Van Acker, President and CEO, Westech Inc.
As the president and CEO of Westech, Inc., Van Acker has overseen the company’s rapid growth from a single site in Charlotte, N.C., to a company with more than 50 employees and operations throughout the eastern United States. Van Acker has led the company’s transformation from an engineering and construction management services provider to a green tech and clean energy solutions provider. As the CEO, she has overseen the implementation of a new employee-friendly culture and increased employee engagement.
As part of her transformation, Van Acker spearheaded a company-wide initiative to improve the salary and benefits of African-American and Hispanic employees. The results have been impressive — in the past two years, the company has demonstrated substantial progress in reducing the disparity between white and black salaries, and has committed to doing better in the future.
6. John Fraser, CEO, CFL and Manitoba Hockey League
John Fraser is the president and CEO of the CFL and Manitoba Hockey League and former CEO of the Canadian Football League. As a private sector leader with decades of experience in the public sector, Fraser brings a fresh perspective to the table on how the CFL can grow its popularity and investment.
In addition to his work with the CFL and Manitoba Hockey League, Fraser has served on numerous corporate boards, including a stint as CEO of the Canyons Resort and Golf Course Company.
7. Michael O’Brien, Mayor, Calgary
As the mayor of Calgary, O’Brien is responsible for leading the city’s operations and serving as the face of the city and the CFL. A former chief of staff to Cabinet ministers in the province of Alberta, O’Brien has been a vocal advocate for Calgary and Alberta’s economy.
As the mayor, O’Brien has led the charge for a new downtown and riverwalk, as well as a light-rail transit system. The downtown and riverwalk projects are central to O’Brien’s Vision for Calgary, which aims to be the leading city in North America for culture, environment, and innovation.
8. Simon Fraser University — Faculty of Commerce
As a business school professor, Michael King, Ph.D., is well-qualified to speak about the future of business in the North American region. A leading economic development expert, he is the founder and managing director of the Fraser Institute in Vancouver, Canada, which specializes in research on the economics of innovation, investment, and location.
As an economic development expert, King has been an outspoken critic of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which he believes would do “more harm than good” for the regions where it’s negotiated. He is also critical of the North American Free Trade Agreement and has said that he fears NAFTA could be the “death knell” for many small businesses in Canada.
9. Cameron Muir, Program Officer, The World Wide Fund for Nature
As a Toronto-based Program Officer at The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Muir leads the fight against species extinction through global conservation. Her role is to increase the fund’s engagement and advocacy in order to help solve the most pressing conservation issues facing the planet.
As an expert on the economics of nature protection, Muir works with communities and businesses to identify the best ways to monetize protected areas, and she has worked to increase protection and removal of wildlife from parks and wildlife refuges.
10. Maude Barlow, Chair, Council of Canadians
Maude Barlow is the chair of the Council of Canadians, which is dedicated to advancing social justice, economic development, and human rights. Barlow’s career has spanned more than four decades, and she currently serves as the parliamentary secretary to the minister of employment and Social Development.
As a human rights and social justice activist, Barlow has been involved in a variety of projects, including the creation of the first safe drinking water zone in Canada, the protection of First Nations land, the establishment of a national child care program, and the advocacy for a national code of ethics for doctors.
11. Ron Hickey, CEO, Horween
As the CEO of Horween, Inc., Ron Hickey leads a company that is the largest manufacturer of handmade shoes in the world. A native son of Chicago, Hickey began his career as a production manager at Shoe Carnival in the mid-1960s. Hickey has led Horween through some of the most significant economic change in its history, including the discontinuation of the handmade shoe in 1985, the move to a low-