May 30, 2012

County seeks input on economic development

As published in The Erin Advocate

Wellington wants to be more competitive in attracting investment and tourists, and is looking for ideas from local businesses and residents.

"The County of Wellington has decided to step up and develop a strategic plan to help map out our economic future," said Warden Chris White in a statement on the 2012 budget. It has $100,000 for new economic development initiatives, including $75,000 for a strategic plan to be done with Waterloo Wellington Community Futures.

"We must move off of our dependency on residential property tax and expand our commercial and industrial base."

In January, county council set up a formal Economic Development Committee, including Erin Councillor Ken Chapman. The new Economic Development Officer, Jana Reichert, formerly of Community Futures, has been discussing Erin's situation with Mayor Lou Maieron.

"I hope Erin sees me as a resource," said Reichert. "I can help you connect with investors, try to get funding for new initiatives and see what the priorities are."

Erin's efforts in this area are in disarray at the moment. The Town's volunteer-based Economic Development Committee had started a survey on the equine industry. But Chair Brian Gentles recently resigned, citing lack of support and direction from town council, and the committee has been temporarily dissolved.

Mayor Maieron has been pushing to have Economic Development as a Council Committee, with the ability to take more aggressive action to boost local business.

In the meantime, Erin residents and business people can contribute to the County's strategic plan. It includes an economic analysis of Wellington, identifying industries that will drive the regional economy, developing growth projections for them and developing strategies to boost employment.

Direct comments can be made at the website:, in the Have Your Say section.

Everyone is welcome to attend an Erin Focus Group on Wednesday, June 13, 9-11 a.m. at Centre 2000, to exchange ideas. Refreshments will be provided.

The website also has a link to an on-line survey. Naturally, it asks about the various positive things in Wellington, and there are many. More interesting is the section in which people can describe the opportunities (i.e., problems) that exist. The county cannot solve them all, but they can be part of a collaborative effort.

Here's what I wrote in the opportunity section of the survey:

• A consistent, long-term publicity effort is needed to enhance Wellington's image among potential business investors.

• Moderate population growth and immigration is needed to build the workforce and improve the consumer base for local retailers.

• Good quality cell-phone reception is needed in all rural areas.

• True high-speed internet is needed in all rural areas. The County's Rural Broadband project was inadequate in Erin.

• The County roads system needs to provide truck bypass routes for major bottlenecks, such as the downtown area of Erin village.

• A better network of bike lanes is needed on County Roads, through the Active Transportation Plan, plus a better network of off-road trails.

• Adequate ambulance service is needed in Erin, for residents and businesses. Thirty-minute waits are unacceptable.

• Land acquisition funding is needed, as in Halton and Peel, to create more Conservation Areas.

• More high-profile cultural events are needed to attract tourists.

My final comment is that economic development is too important to be left as an optional activity for municipalities. The Wellington Economic Development Strategy should guide local strategies.

The County should set some minimum standards to ensure that each municipality does a good job of promoting itself, and that the efforts are coordinated to promote the regional economy.