Growth from the ground up: Driving economic sustainability with agri-food in Sutton
With a local economy built mainly on seasonal tourism, Sutton was eager to diversify and find new opportunities for growth. CEDEC pinpointed the region’s agri-food sector as a strong contender and used its collaborative hub model to connect private producers with municipal and regional partners in a public–private–civil society (PPCS) project that will spawn new agri-food jobs and year-round revenue streams.
Finding the opportunities
Sutton’s economy was underperforming the rest of the region by six percentage points even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit its tourism-based businesses hard. The town council knew diversifying was key but wasn’t sure how best to go about it. They did know CEDEC had helped grow the available talent pool for the Mont Sutton ski hill in 2019 and, encouraged by that success, reached out to CEDEC.
CEDEC’s economic analysis revealed an opportunity to develop Sutton’s agri-food industry. Across the wider Brome-Missisquoi region, agri-food has generated 5,000 jobs and contributed $259 million to the economy. Yet in Sutton, 40 percent of the land zoned for agriculture was underused. The recommendation to pursue growth in agri-food aligned neatly with the views of Sutton’s Economic Development Corporation (CDES), which had visions of transforming the town into a food destination.
The Town and CDES were also encouraged by the fact that small-scale farming often attracts young families due to the lower costs of land and overhead, meaning agri-food growth could also help expand the local population and increase tax revenues.
Sutton at a Glance
Top 3 industries by employment
- Increased investments in agri-food production
- Higher revenues and an expanded range of products for local producers
- New businesses and new jobs
- A diversified local economy providing year-round employment and higher tax revenues
- A thriving agri-food industry generating revenues and providing a new regional attraction
- More newcomers settling in the region
COVID-19 has highlighted the need to diversify our local economy. I very much want the municipality to support the growth of the agriculture sector as an additional economic motor and see existing businesses flourish.”
The collaboration effect
With partners from the Town and CDES in place from the start, CEDEC’s next step was to engage the private sector to round out the collaboration. The Centre Local de développement (CLD) Brome-Missiquoi, which had long been seeking stronger ties with the Town, joined in.
Producers expressed their excitement at the initiative, seeing an opportunity to tap into changing consumer habits, preferences and attitudes about local products being higher-quality and safer because buyers know where they come from. Consumers themselves wanted to support local producers.
Working for results
CEDEC implemented its Collaborative Economic Development Model (CEDM) to turn Sutton’s economic opportunity into a viable business venture and is managing a multi-year action plan to maintain momentum. The CLD has set about identifying additional sources of government funding for producers.
A whole range of technical, financial, mentoring and training activities are underway to build up Sutton’s agri-food sector. One early win for the collaboration came at Christmas 2020.
Usually, the town held the Sutton Christmas Market where local producers could sell their goods and generate revenue. The COVID-19 pandemic made the market impossible. CEDEC brought forward the innovative idea that producers could sell Christmas baskets through the CDES instead — and in a mere two weeks, more than 100 baskets were sold, generating $6,000 in sales.
CEDEC’s hub approach continues to help Sutton develop the skills, relationships and infrastructure to diversify its economy through agri-food. Going forward, producers will explore partnerships with local retailers and restaurants to encourage year-round visibility of their products, and the MRC will be better able to drive the commercialization of new offerings by virtue of having closer ties to producers through the hub. New jobs will benefit the entire community and be a source of pride.
CEDEC’s next step is to conduct a market study of local production volumes, revenues and sales and distribution points to identify current gaps in the agri-food sector and support the development of a business plan to close them.
The higher revenues and increased external investment that CEDEC expects will allow producers to invest directly in year-round infrastructure such as greenhouses, storage facilities and retail outlets of their own, which will boost tax revenues for the town. These investments will generate their own economic spinoffs in transportation and hospitality and will allow Sutton to offer year-round attractions with a thriving agri-food sector at their core.