April 03, 2013

CAO seeks cooperation on economic development

As published in The Erin Advocate

Renewal of Erin's economic development efforts will require broad collaboration, Chief Administrative Officer Frank Miele told a recent meeting of the East Wellington Chamber of Commerce.

"We need support from the business community, to come before council and talk to us, to work with us in putting together the strategy," he said. "How do we go about removing the barriers to growth? Growth isn't bad, if it's managed properly."

Council has decided to revive the Economic Development Committee, and is seeking members to represent not only various types of business, but other sectors of the community.

The committee is to advise councillors and staff on a new Economic Development Strategy, with a commitment to the quality of life for all residents, and to responsible, sustainable growth. The previous committee was disbanded last year after Chair Brian Gentles resigned, citing lack of direction from council.

"Council is committing itself to creating a strong economic development force," said Miele at the Chamber meeting. "It's going to be a very unique and historic committee, because it is going to help chart the course of where we're going to be in the next five to ten years in terms of economic growth."

The committee mandate includes "marketing and the promotion of the Town of Erin as a key southern Ontario destination", "broad consultation with community stakeholders", collaborating with other organizations such as Wellington County and "enhancing growth opportunities" for both existing and emerging economic sectors.

Miele said the Town and the Chamber have "common objectives", and stressed that economic development is a long-term investment, not an expense.

"Our objective is to attract and retain businesses, it's as simple as that. You generate new jobs, and new taxable revenues – meaning new taxes. A combination of those two factors ensures long-term financial sustainability for our community."

Miele advocates an "asset-based" strategy, assessing the strong areas of the local economy and trying to build clusters of similar businesses. He said strategic action plans must have measurable objectives.

"If we dream about achieving something, and not having a time frame associated with it, it's like having a nightmare."

Only 13% of the Erin's local tax revenues come from business. Miele believes that can be increased to 20% within 10 years, along with increasing the overall tax base (business and residential) by 30%. He sees more potential in knowledge-based and creative sectors of the economy, than in traditional industries.

One part of the marketing strategy could be to appoint volunteer "ambassadors", people who already travel as part of their businesses, and who may have opportunities to promote Erin if provided with suitable materials. Miele also said improvements are needed to make the Town website more competitive among neighbouring communities.

He said 80% of all new jobs come from existing businesses and 20% from new investment, so the Town needs to focus on the retention component.

"Businesses go where they are invited. They stay and expand where they are well-treated. How can we help you? Are you finding it difficult to expedite the development process at the local level? I want to know about it," said Miele.

"Business is the number one priority in this community. We need to be business ready. When an investor comes in, you need to provide them with information that is very up-to-date."

For  example, they may want a comparison of Erin's development charges with those of communities within a 30 minute driving radius, or details on house prices, labour rates, the availability of skilled workers.

"They want to know, do you have serviced, available lands where I can hook up and flush my toilet? And unfortunately we do have some challenges in that respect."