Late last month, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada’s economic development agency, Economic Development Winnipeg, released its latest attempt to answer, in simple terms, what is economic development, and why is it important? That the agency did it on International LEGO Day was significant because, unlike in the past, the agency directed its efforts at school students — via an animated LEGO video.
Titled “What Is Economic Development?” the stop-motion video (watch below) anchors an online teacher’s resource, whatiseconomicdevelopment.com, that also offers lesson plans, developed with the input of educators, to help students understand the extended meaning behind the term economic development.
Economic Development Winnipeg (EDW), which is made up of an economic development team (YES! Winnipeg) and the destination marketing organization Tourism Winnipeg, is always looking for ways to promote Winnipeg and attract new businesses, conferences, and tourism. But like many in the events and tourism industries who had to rethink how they do business in the face of the COVID-19, EDW was forced to get creative when the pandemic wreaked havoc on the economy and shut down tourism and business travel.
Creating the video for students, said Cody Chomiak, EDW’s director of marketing, allowed the agency to “inspire the next generation of kids” to learn about economic development, how it affects their city, and how they can make their city a better place. But reaching politicians, global businesses, event planners, and other stakeholders — their usual targets — is a side benefit because of the video’s appeal and simplicity.
“You don’t want to be condescending” when explaining the topic, Chomiak told Convene. Using the LEGO theme “was a fun, approachable way of doing it … coming at it from a really honest perspective.”
Chomiak’s team didn’t land on the LEGO solution out of the blue. The foundation for the idea was laid in Spring 2020, when Winnipeg and most of the world were in COVID-19 lockdown. Tyler Walsh, a digital and content marketer for EDW, was looking for a pandemic pastime for himself and his two sons, who had amassed a collection of LEGO sets over the years. Walsh decided to work with his kids on a stop-motion LEGO video when he remembered the March address of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to the country’s children about COVID-19. They made Trudeau’s audio figure prominently in their video.
He posted the video on social-media sites on a Sunday. “And it just kind of blew up,” Walsh said. “By Monday evening I actually got a shout-out from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau thanking the boys and me for doing this video.”
Since that first video, Walsh has produced others in English and French, including Trudeau’s Canada Day message to children, using audio provided by the Prime Minister’s office.
By summer, the EDW team had decided to tap Walsh’s experience with both LEGO building and stop-motion photography to create a video aimed at students. With all the building blocks in place, they wove the traditional — and sometimes confusing — concepts of economic development such as business retention, expansion, foreign direct investment, and talent attraction into a story about how an ice-cream shop grows from a local favorite to an international business.
Events and Economic Development
The video also brings up how business events and tourism fit into the mix, explaining why the International Association of Ice Cream Makers Conference comes to town in the video and what happens once all those visitors are in the city. Adding in tourism and business events was important, Chomiak said, because with the pandemic people have seen “what the absence of tourism means in many communities. We’re finding out the hard way. I think this is a really important tool for people to help understand how everything is so interwoven.”
“We’re always trying to get the local media to talk in a positive way about … economic development and tourism,” he said. “I think we can use tools like this to continue to push that message out.”
Although EDW made the video generic enough that people anywhere could apply it to their own city — the city in the video is Peg City — Winnipeg did inspire parts of the story. Chaeban Ice Cream was the “loose inspiration” for Peg Ice Cream Co., and the mayor of Winnipeg did the voiceover for Peg City’s mayor. EDW did a casting call to find the voice of the main character, a child learning about economic development. And Dayna Spiring, president and CEO of Economic Development Winnipeg, was the voice of the “super tutor” who magically appears to explain the concepts to the boy.
“Always put your boss in a cape, that’s my advice,” Chomiak said.
He and Walsh estimate it took at least a month to create the video, from writing the script, to buying more LEGO sets and building them, shooting more the 3,200 photos for the video, recording the voices, and editing it all together.
“Tyler has said it was the most ambitious video he’s ever done,” Chomiak said. “But what better way to be in my late 30s and building LEGO sets and getting paid to do it? That’s awesome.”
Not only was the effort taken worth it for the level of fun had, but response to the video has been “phenomenal,” Walsh said. The agency has had requests for versions in French and other languages, he said, and because teachers have responded so well, EDW plans to remind schools about the video, website, and lesson plans when teachers are developing their curriculum for the fall semester. According to Chomiak, an economic development organization in France sent Spiring a message praising the video and that he was sharing it with colleagues and stakeholders. That is one of many such positive responses from people in the economic development, meetings, and tourism industries.
“People in the industry really thankful that they’ve finally got this tool to be able to share with their family, friends, and colleagues about what exactly they do,” Walsh said. “That’s been huge.”
The pandemic not only led EDW to work on the economic development video, but also a series of live-action videos called Summer Saved Winnipeg, in which Chomiak and a co-worker visit different city hospitality spots to learn what they offer and how they keep guests safe. The agency also created a customizable Tourism Winnipeg virtual site visit tool at a time when live site visits weren’t possible.
While EDW doesn’t have any specific plans for more LEGO-themed videos, they remain open to the idea, Chomiak said. “We want to ride this train as long as we can.”
What Is Economic Development?
Curt Wagner is digital editor at Convene.