September 25, 2013

Town opts against development grant

As published in The Erin Advocate

To apply for a $25,000 economic development grant, or not to apply, that was one of the questions debated by Erin Town Council last week.

The nays prevailed, despite urgings from Mayor Lou Maieron to press forward. Councillors backed the recommendation of CAO Kathryn Ironmonger to hold off until the Town is able to make better use of the money.

Back in January, council backed a plan by former CAO Frank Miele for an Economic Development (ED) Strategy, leading to a Business Readiness Plan. That would include an assessment of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, a detailed community profile, and action steps to boost the commercial and industrial tax base.

Council had set aside $25,000 in the budget, with plans to seek a provincial grant under the provincial Rural Economic Development (RED) to pay for it.

The plan has not moved forward, however, and a new ED committee has not been formed.

Ironmonger said that with additional activity and costs of at least $54,000 in the Settlement and Servicing Master Plan (SSMP), and an additional $15,000 for more work on the Town’s Strategic Plan, the Town is not ready to draw up a Business Readiness Plan.

She said that should wait until the other projects are done. The Town is almost finished its Business Retention and Expansion BR&E survey of the equine industry, and is participating in a county-led BR&E for other sectors.

“This development strategy comes after that,” said Councillor John Brennan. He had support from other councilors to apply for money to help cover the equine study, though Ironmonger said it was unlikely that such a grant would be given for a project that was already being done.

Mayor Maieron favoured applying for the main grant.

“The primary objective of an economic development strategy plan is to improve livability and quality of life,” he said. “Month after month we have our taxpayers urge us to try to shift the tax base to more commercial-industrial growth, and take some heat off the residential tax base.

“The need for an Economic Strategy and Business Readiness Plan in my opinion go hand in hand with the Business Retention and Expansion project that we are working with the county on.

“We seem to be well behind many other municipalities. The county has spent considerable money developing an economic development department with a strategy. It only makes sense for us to develop a strategy that goes hand in step with what the county’s trying to do.

“Otherwise, I suggest to council that we will be left behind. Other municipalities like Minto not only have economic development committees, they have economic development officers actively trying to make some jobs for their communities.”

John Brennan said, “The points you’ve raised are great points – we absolutely need a development strategy. This needs to capitalize on what we get out of the BR&E – not the simplistic thing we’re looking at now, but something much more. A strategy that flows out of solid information, and that’s what we’ll need the grant for.

“I don’t want to waste the time now to get a cheap grant, that will not meet our needs when we’re finished with the study, and we have something solid to sink our teeth into. I want the money to do the job, but I want enough money to do the job properly when we have the tools to do the job with. What comes out of the BR&E will push us – that’s what you’re going to base your strategy on.”

Maieron disagreed, saying the BR&E deals with existing businesses, while the Strategy is more about attracting new business. “It’s sad to say, other municipalities are ahead of us. I feel we’re not moving forward.”

“You get your biggest bang for your buck out of your existing businesses,” said Brennan. “There’s going to be a big opportunity down the road – I don’t want out miss out on that. I don’t want to do something now that will jeopardize our chances of getting a good grant.

“Next year, I want to see an economic development person for this Town, part-time or full-time.”