ASSOCIATIONS: Assessing the impact on Ottawa’s economy

Courtney Symons
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Associations play such a pivotal role in Ottawa's economy that the local tourism sector will do a song and dance to keep them here, sometimes literally.

Rick Baker, president of CSAE's Ottawa-Gatineau chapter.

When the Canadian Society of Association Executives hosted its national conference in Ottawa last November, representatives from Ottawa's tourism industry did a rendition of Abba's Dancing Queen at the final evening's gala, singing "Here in the 613, we are the Ottawa team," among other rewrites, to convince the associations to return to the nation's capital for future events. 

“They’re crucial,” says Ottawa Tourism’s Jantine Van Kregten of associations’ importance to the local economy. “It’s our bread and butter.”

During the past three years, Ottawa Tourism has secured bookings of 111,547 hotel rooms from association members, for an estimated economic impact of $50.2 million.

CSAE estimates that there are as many as 70,000 associations registered in Canada today. Some are small and obscure, but many house their headquarters in Ottawa to be close to the federal government. If they’re not based in Ottawa, most have at least an office here.

Because of that strong presence, it’s easy to make a case that they should host their annual general meetings and conventions in town.

But the tourism industry is only one aspect of the economic impact associations have on Ottawa.

They directly employ thousands of local workers and are relatively stable financially, given that revenues frequently come from a large number of dues-paying members.

They also wield considerable purchasing power.

Rick Baker, who heads the local branch of CSAE, says associations are a powerful force given that virtually every industry and business sector in Canada is represented by some form of association or management group.

“We hire a lot of people, we buy a lot of products, we utilize a lot of services. It has a tremendous amount of spinoff in the community,” says Mr. Baker, who is also the CEO of the Ottawa RA Centre.

OBJ takes a look at some of the industries keeping an eye on associations.



In 2012, the Ottawa Marriott Hotel brought in approximately $3 million from association guests, and the hotel is on track to maintain that again this year, says its general manager Daniel Laliberté.

After spending $25 million on renovations in recent years, the downtown Marriott is targeting small association conventions for its 31,000 square feet of meeting space.

“They’re good guests that have been good money, and they’re low maintenance,” Mr. Laliberté  says, adding that most behave like well-mannered corporate customers.

While some national organizations may require additional help in terms of translation services for their events, this isn’t a problem for the bilingual hotel.

And although there are enough hotel rooms in the city to accommodate large associations, Mr. Laliberté says Ottawa could still use more conference space – even with the newly constructed Ottawa Convention Centre and the recently renamed Ernst & Young Centre near the airport – to ensure Ottawa is an option for even the largest national associations.



Most organizations require office space, creating business for local landlords and real estate professionals.

Broker Darren Fleming estimates that associations make up about 20 per cent of the business done by the brokerage firm for which he works, Cresa Ottawa.

Although small industry groups may need only 5,000 square feet of space, larger organizations – such as Cresa’s client the Heart & Stroke Foundation – require up to 14,000 square feet.

I think (associations) are very much intertwined with business and the whole economy of the area. J.D. Sharp, partner at Emond Harnden LLP

“We’d like to do (even) more business for (associations), quite frankly,” Mr. Fleming says.

Associations aren’t enormous job creators in town, but they still have a large impact locally, he adds. For example, CADSI – which represents Canadian defence and security firms – has only a handful of paid staff but throws the largest national defence conference, CANSEC, every year.



“(Associations) are regular customers for us,” says J.D. Sharp, partner at law firm Emond Harnden LLP.

Not only does the firm represent a lot of associations, but members of those groups are potential customers as well, as they’re often executives of local businesses.

Because of this interconnectivity, it’s hard to estimate how much business comes from associations, Mr. Sharp says.

Needs vary from group to group. Associations facing severe cutbacks or diminished government funding may need help downsizing and resolving labour issues; organizations seeing rapid growth might require assistance hiring or conducting reference checks.

“I think (associations) are very much intertwined with business and the whole economy of the area,” Mr. Sharp says. “Support for these associations ... creates a better business hub for Ottawa and a better environment for the health and growth of businesses.”



Canada’s non-profit sector is the second largest in the world after the Netherlands when expressed as a share of the economically active population.

Two million people work full-time for non-profits and charities in Canada. Of those, two-thirds are in paid positions and the other one-third are volunteers.

Ontario employment in the industry was about 37,700 jobs in 2012.

The sector contributes an average of 7.8 per cent of total Canadian GDP – more than the retail trade industry and close to the value of the mining, oil and gas industry.

Source: Imagine Canada, a national charitable organization supporting charities and nonprofits, and Statistics Canada.



Ottawa can add one more name to its list of local associations after Canadian Women in Communications decided to move its office to the nation’s capital from Toronto in April.

The professional trade association is headed by Joanne Stanley, who will hire staff in Ottawa and seek out legal, accounting and association support services locally.

When an opportunity opened up to align with the Information and Communications Technology Council in Ottawa, the women’s association decided to take it.

Ottawa is viewed as a “neutral” location to Quebec-based stakeholders because of its bilingualism, and is favoured by West Coast residents over larger cities such as Toronto, according to Ms. Stanley.

Because associations act as spokespeople for the industries they represent, having many of them in Ottawa increases the diversity of expertise in the city.

“I think it adds value and depth to any community when you have that kind of talent and intellectual thinking,” she says. “That’s gotta be good for Ottawa.”

Organizations: Canadian Society of Association Executives, RA Centre, Ottawa Marriott Hotel Ottawa Convention Centre Ernst Young Centre Heart Stroke Foundation Emond Harnden Statistics Canada Canadian Women Information and Communications Technology Council

Geographic location: Ottawa, Canada, Toronto Netherlands Ontario West Coast

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