March 24, 2010

Economic committee wants input from local firms

As published in The Erin Advocate

Erin's Economic Development Committee is hoping to get more advice on how the town's business climate can be improved.

Preliminary assessment is being done on a questionnaire that could end up going to every business in Erin. It is part of an Ontario government program called Business Retention and Expansion (BR+E), designed to help communities attract and keep the type of development that they want.

"It is potentially a huge project," said Brian Gentles, who recently took over as chair of the committee, which advises Town Council on business issues. He said they cannot presume to tell business people what is best for them.

"We want to get advice, but in a structured way," he said. "People have different frames of reference. We need a well-communicated plan."

His own opinion is that Erin should pursue moderate growth. "When you don't grow, you decline," he said.

If the Town proceeds with the BR+E program, it will help the community build up a data base that identifies strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. A team of volunteers would be trained to conduct the confidential survey and a task force of community leaders assembled to analyze and summarize the key needs and issues facing the business sector. The process builds partnerships and helps the Town develop specific actions to improve the business climate.

In other Ontario towns, this has included improved municipal approval processes, more effective tourism marketing, goals for new infrastructure, and training programs for skills development and customer service. More information on this and other Rural Economic Development Programs is available from the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs:, or email:

The Economic Development Committee's best known project has been the successful Home & Lifestyle Show, now in its sixth year. It will be held Saturday, May 1 at Centre 2000, 10 am to 4 pm, with admission $2 for adults. The Rotary Club will help staff the show this year. Gentles is expecting more than 800 visitors, checking out 80-90 booths. Businesses can register until March 31 – go to, call (519) 855-6683 or email:

The committee is also reviving the idea of hosting informal business breakfast meetings, including guest speakers. The first one is planned for May.

In a related development, former Town Councillor Mary Shields has been working towards launching the East Wellington Chamber of Commerce, which will encompass Erin and Guelph/Eramosa (Rockwood). It would be independent of the Town, the BIA and the Economic Development Committee, though there are overlapping interests.

It sounds like a good idea, worthy of some enthusiasm and cooperation to get it started. Chambers of Commerce are voluntary associations of business and professional people working to strengthen the community. Unlike Business Improvement Areas, they are not supported by a surcharge on municipal business taxes. They act as a voice to government and the media for the broader business community.

The new Chamber will host a sign-up night for businesses that may be interested in becoming founding members. It will be at the Town of Erin offices on Trafalgar Road on Tuesday, March 30, 7:30-8:30 pm. For details, contact Acting Executive Director Mary Shields, 519-941-9419, or

For an idea of how it could work, take a look at what Georgetown and Acton are doing through the Halton Hills Chamber of Commerce. The organization gives businesses exposure on the internet and through directories, including a quarterly newsletter published by The Independent & Free Press.

It offers group insurance and on-line business training, provides social/networking groups, including Halton Hills Women in Business, runs events such as the Halton Hills Home and Leisure Show, does tourism promotion, and gives out various awards. The group has been a business advocate since 1912, getting involved in local and provincial/national issues and providing a link to the Ontario and Canadian Chambers of Commerce.

Annual membership costs range from $212 for firms with 1-4 employees, to $630 for those with more than 200 employees. Check it out at