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Charting a new course

Entrepreneurial government is a concept that is taking hold in cities across North America

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On April 7, 2005, John Street, mayor of Philadelphia, announced his city’s intention to build a citywide wireless broadband network. The intent of the venture is to sell the service to residents, with low-income users getting price breaks.

The announcement sparked an intense debate over whether cities have any business in the broadband industry. A year earlier New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg created a similar stir by hiring Joseph M. Perello (a former sports marketing consultant) as chief marketing officer, a first for a United States municipality. Perello’s first announcement was that he’d secured a deal with Snapple to be the official beverage provider on New York City’s properties, including schools.

The controversy that surrounded both of these announcements is old news to Whistler residents who witnessed the roll out of the Yodel wireless broadband network, commonly known as Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity), in the summer of 2003 and the purchase of 50 per cent of whistler.com last year. In October 2004, Whistler’s municipal council adopted a policy to set parameters for public-private partnerships (PPPs). In fact, Whistler has been on the leading edge of entrepreneurial government since its framework was laid out in the RMOW’s Vision 2002 Document.

By now, entrepreneurial government is a familiar term, and in a town with a higher than average rate of entrepreneurs per capita (6.7 per cent of Whistler residents vs. 4.6 per cent for B.C.), the term has a pleasing ring. However, few people have a firm grasp of exactly what it means.

In their influential book, Reinventing Government, David Osborne and Ted Gaebler coined the term "entrepreneurial government" to describe their vision of how government could adapt and change to become a source of support and service. Simply defined, entrepreneurial government is citizen-centred, results-oriented and market-based, actively promoting innovation and competition. Their model for entrepreneurial government led to the initiation of the National Performance Review by then U.S. Vice President Al Gore in 1994 and the federal government reform objectives adopted by President Bush, in 2001.

Almost 15 years later, Osborne and Gaebler’s vision of government as a catalyst for change is just as relevant. Here in Whistler, the concept has been embraced and the mandate is to move beyond the good idea to achieve its fruition. Most significant is their recommendation that: "government can – and must – compete with for-profit businesses, non-profit agencies, and other units of government."

"An enterprise, whether a business or any other institution, that does not engage in entrepreneurship, will not long survive." — Peter Drucker

As Whistler envisions its future to 2020 and beyond, cold realities must be considered. Financial tools, long promised by the province, may not be forthcoming; four consecutive years of declining tourist visits are having some effect on the tax base; and local homeowners enduring crippling property tax rates cannot be sustained. It may very quickly become necessary to generate revenue from alternate sources, and bets must be placed if there is to be significant payoff.

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