New BEDC sets up shop; working on what they mean by transparency as they face mammoth task making us all prosperous.

News 100 redBy Pepper Parr

July 10, 2014


He needed a little while to reset his compass but Frank McKeown has found his bearings and will focus on what he knows best – business.  He was appointed Executive Director of the BEDC Inc., the city’s arm’s length operation created to drum up business for the city.  And goodness knows we need it.

The organization has been without a rudder since last October when, on All Hallows Eve, then Executive Director Kyle Benham was shown to his parking space and sent home with his keys to the office in someone else’s hands.

McKeown is one of those quiet, very effective guys, who goes about his business asking incisive questions and taking notes.


Frank McKeough, former Chief of Staff to MAyor Rick Goldring asked about how politicians can handle complex issues when voters tend not to be informed and don't have the background needed to arrive at decisions.

Frank McKeown, former Chief of Staff to Mayor Rick Goldring asked about how politicians can handle complex issues, when voters tend not to be informed and don’t have the background needed to arrive at decisions.

He was involved in Rick Goldring’s 2010 election campaign and wrote most of the position papers that Goldring put out.  McKeown will tell you that the Mayor managed to deliver on most of those.

Shortly after being elected Goldring appointed McKeown as his Chief of Staff, which at the time seemed odd – staff consisted of 4 people.  Turns out Frank was really the chief thinker on the 8th floor.

McKeowen and SharmanHe was heavily involved in the Strategic Plan discussions in 2011, where he was frequently referred to as the “seventh council member” at times disparagingly by others, who took part in those prolonged meetings.

McKeown’s  job was a political one.  He was there to think and to run interference for the Mayor.  But two years into the job McKeown got despondent and came to the conclusion, he couldn’t get much done with the culture at both city hall and the eighth floor.  He gave the Mayor six months’ notice and headed back to the private sector.

There was a period of time when McKeown was talked about as a possible candidate for public office – first as a council member and then as Mayor.  McKeown gave it serious thought, but decided instead to take the opportunity to head up the rejuvenated economic development operation.

Much of the rejuvenation that organization is going to get will be driven by McKeown – and he has a mammoth task on his hands.

He has a brand new board that has to learn how it wants to function.  That board has to figure out how it wants to operate; what it is going to take to city council to get their rubber stamp placed on – and by the way, who will the BEDC be presenting to?  Which councillors will be keeping those seats warm?

There is a small staff that has been poorly led in the past, badly served by the large board that was in place and now wonders what the future holds for them.

McKeown, who fully understands the need to nurture, mentor and grow staff, has his hands full.  Nothing wrong with the people on the payroll – they have all done their best.  They now need to know, what it is they are going to be expected to do – and that is not yet clear.  We are about to see just how good the McKeown skill set is.

McKeown now takes the position that he is no longer a “public” figure and that he doesn’t have a public profile.  Nice try – the job McKeown is taking on is one of the most critical and vital to the economic health of the city and what kind of a city Burlington is going to be economically.

In the past the BEDC has not been very good at telling not only their own story, but that of the city to the rest of the world. They got pulled into the same trap as the politicians and touted our being the “best medium sized city in Canada”.

But major corporate organizations were leaving the city and there wasn’t much being said about those that were setting up shop here.

The past iteration of the BEDC focused on networking and producing report after report and telling the public that the new tomorrow was just over the horizon.

McKeowen and SharmanMcKeown is going to need until the end of this year to get all his ducks lined up.  His board has yet to learn to work together as a team and the public needs to know, who they are and why they are there.

The business community tends to get rather shy when it comes to media and public scrutiny – they prefer to issue media releases and say as little as possible.

It is not yet clear as to just how transparent the operation will be.  McKeown says he will be fully transparent, but was reluctant to release the names of the new board members.  They are known – but for some reason McKeown wants to wait a bit before going public.  That doesn’t fit with any definition of transparency we are aware of.

The new board consists of:

Gary Graham, Chair, Partner with Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP; Rick Goldring, Mayor, Paul Sharman, Councillor; Jack Dennison, Councillor; Ruta Staukas, VP – Human Resources Boehringer Ingelhein; Bonnie Prior Executive Director, Appraisal Institute of Canada; Randall Smallbone, Dealing Representative, Portland Investment Council; J. Michael Hanna, president, Kylin Developments; Gordon Knack, VP operations, MHPM Project Managers Inc.; D. David Conrath, president, Conrath Communications; Pat Moyle interim city manager, Burlington.

In their first public statement The Board of Directors of The Burlington Economic Development Corporation has announced that business executive Frank McKeown has been named the BEDC’s executive director.

“I want to welcome Frank to the position of executive director on behalf of the staff and the board of directors of the Burlington Economic Development Corporation,” said Gary Graham, the BEDC’s board chair. “Frank’s leadership skills match the BEDC’s needs as it takes an invigorated and proactive approach to the recruitment and retention of employers and those willing to invest in the development of employment lands.”

McKeown was chosen by the BEDC board at a June 24 meeting. The BEDC is being transformed to better align with the objectives of the city’s strategic plan, which include meeting the city’s economic prosperity goals and creating more jobs.

McKeown is an experienced business executive, who has held several executive roles, leading companies through restructuring, investment and public offering processes. He is a former chief of staff for Burlington Mayor Rick Goldring.

McKeown  is the founder of KnowledgePark Technologies, a business mentor with HalTechRIC, an advisor to CONNEXXUS, and a mentor to Innovate Burlington.

“I am thankful to the board of directors for giving me this opportunity,” McKeown said. “I am committed to the economic development of the city and recognize how important these activities are for the long-term prosperity for residents.”

“Jobs and investment are critical to our future,” McKeown said. “Our economy is changing and we must meet these challenges. I look forward to working with the BEDC staff and Board to achieve our mandate together.”

BEDC is a non-profit, private-public partnership that promotes economic development on behalf of the City of Burlington, by creating a positive business environment that encourages new investment, supports Burlington’s local businesses, and facilitates opportunities for local growth and prosperity. BEDC is the first point of contact for companies seeking assistance, advice, and localized business solutions.

This is the same old baffle-gab that the corporate sector uses, mushy stuff that makes your mother proud, but doesn’t really say very much.

Let’s give them some breathing room and see where they are in a month or so.

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1 comment to New BEDC sets up shop; working on what they mean by transparency as they face mammoth task making us all prosperous.

  • John Sweeny

    Although it looks like I will not be able to continue in my quest to represent the citizens of Burlington and Ward 4, as a taxpayer, the “New” BEDC Inc is a real concern for me.

    It is very concerning that the new Director does not feel the need to provide information already. He is reluctant to provide basic items like the names of the BoD (which is already public). This is distressing, I have followed some of the presentations through this process and wrote an article on my website with some very specific concerns. It is being described as a “Public Private” partnership however, it is a “wholly owned subsidiary of the City of Burlington, the City will be providing funding for the venture and will possibly be transferring city assets to BEDC Inc. Further, if you reviewed the details of the proposals there was a call for the BEDC to be able to spend up to $1.2M without necessarily going to council. That’s right $1,200,000 spent by a corporation where the PAID (except for the City members) Board members (previous BEDC Board was unpaid) outnumber the City officials 7 to 4. The City owns the business but doesn’t have control of the BoD.

    Does this mean that individuals that are effectively paid by the City AND are not accountable to the citizens of Burlington can spend up to $1.2 MILLION without specific approval? Yikes!

    What is the governance plan for this entity? What is the disclosure requirements? What was the specific public consultation process that went along with this fundamental shift in a group that the City funds?

    It appears that this is just sliding under the radar of everyone and since EVERYONE seems to agree that Economic Development is one of, if not, THE most important issue that the City faces, have we really considered the options? Or is this just the creation of a vehicle to create patronage appointments for those that helped the Mayor get elected?

    Am I the only one that finds this concerning?