Memorial University’s Harris Centre of Regional Policy and Development has two primary goals: to assist in the responsible development of the economy (and society) of Newfoundland and Labrador, and to stimulate informed discussion of important provincial issues.

Their vision is for “a vibrant democracy with informed citizens.” One recent example of their work is their Population Project, which is reporting on the coming troubles our province must address as our population dynamics continue to change and present new challenges, such as pending gaps in our workforce as more peopel retire than enter our workforce.

There are few if any organisations doing as much to tell us about us in the province, and the documents, podcasts, and workshops they produce are easily digestible and full of conversation fodder. They address the needs of our province by acting as a bridge-builder between Memorial University researchers, faculty, and students, and important groups all over Newfoundland and Labrador.

Their executive director, Dr. Rob Greenwood, jokes that they’re “process freaks!” when it comes to deciding which projects they’ll take on. “I keep saying – and no one has contradicted me yet – that we’re the only organization in the province that has an annual public consultation on our strategic action plan.

“That plan, and our mandate, sets the framework – the high level priorities – for what we take on. We then consult with our Advisory Board, with people from various sectors and regions of our province, and get their input. Once the annual plan is set, that determines our programs – how many Memorial Presents, Synergy Sessions, Regional Workshops, Research Funds etc we will do.”

They’re inundated daily with requests and ideas through Yaffle, from colleagues within MUN, from partners in the community. “Some we can deliver through our existing programs, or  feed into Yaffle and hope people at MUN and the community jump on the opportunity – and often they do. But every month, and in between as needed, we have a stage gate meeting to review new opportunities, see if they fit our plan and our mandate, and do we have the resources to take them on. We clarify are we to be lead, or partner or support.

“Often we have to say no, or add it to the cooker for next year’s plan. You have to focus, and you have to deliver – in this work, reputation is key, and we are careful to work within our mandate and deliver when we take things on.”

For their sterling reputation, and all their vital, impressive, collaborative work, MUN’s Harris Centre and Dr. Greenwood took home the Economic Developers Association of Canada’s President’s Award earlier this month, at a gala in Niagra Falls. The award recognizes leadership in economic Development.

“In today’s knowledge-based economy, universities play an increasing role in advancing innovation and economic development,” said Mr. Emerson, outgoing president of the EDAC. “In just 13 years, The Harris Centre has become recognized as the Canadian leader in mobilizing university research and expertise to connect with industry, communities, and governments.”

Dr. Greenwood has been at the helms for all thirteen years of the Harris Centre’s existence, and given the nature of the Harris Centre’s work, he responds “Absolutely!” when asked if this is a particularly rewarding job.

“I’ve moved around a fair bit in my career, usually getting bored in a job after 3-4 years. I’ve been at the Harris Centre for thirteen years now. I’m fortunate that I was able to build a team from scratch, and all the people who have worked at the Harris Centre do so because they have a passion for this province, and they have a passion for the role the university can play in its development.”

He says, “We all know we are facing many challenges as the economy and society and environment adapt and evolve, but that’s just more reason to roll up our sleeves and work with community leaders, business and labour, and all orders of government to help the place we love.”

Thirteen years in a fast-paced job is a long haul. Highlights for Dr. Greenwood have been manifold, he says, but adds “Bojan Furst has struck gold with our Rural Routes series, Vital Signs has quickly become a provincial institution, and our Population Project is tackling difficult but fundamentally important issues for the future of our province.”

Those are some of the Centre’s newest endeavours, he acknowledges. “It’s easy to be enamoured only with new stuff – T-Rex Syndrome: you only see it if it moves. I’m a big fan of If it works, keep doing it. Our public policy forums led by Mike Clair, Yaffle, led by Jen Adams, and our Regional Analytics Lab (RAnLab), led by Dr. Alvin Simms from the Geography Department, are all evolving but they are also tried and true and they keep delivering for the benefit of this province by unleashing the knowledge and expertise of our faculty, students, and staff. Just to mix things up though, we make sure MUN Buttoned is always different from my year-to-year.”