June 25, 2014

Town approves economic development plan

As published in The Erin Advocate

Council has approved an Action Plan for business retention and growth in the Town of Erin, including the hiring of an economic development officer.

Jana Reichert, County Economic Development Officer and Carolyn O’Donnell, Business Retention Coordinator appeared as a delegation on June 17 to present the Business Retention and Expansion project, with Erin Coordinator Mary Venneman.

Collection and analysis of information has been the primary activity, based on interviews with business owners – 270 county-wide and 41 in Erin.

“Quality of life was the highest-scoring factor,” said Reichert, who has led implementation of Wellington’s new Economic Development Strategy.

Council voted unanimously to accept the report and its Erin Action Plan. They had already set aside money in the 2014 budget for an economic development officer, on condition that it be supplemented by a $25,000 grant from the County. CAO Kathryn Ironmonger is confident this will be received.

“We’ve been crawling along for the whole term,” said Mayor Lou Maieron. “It’s time to do something.”

Other key initiatives include re-establishment of the Economic Development Committee with broad representation to develop an Erin strategy, follow-up and outreach to the business community, taking advantage of County and Hills of Headwaters initiatives, capitalizing on events like the Pan Am Games and developing tools to promote Erin’s competitive advantages.

“In the absence of an economic development plan, the Town has by default adopted a laissez-faire approach to economic development,” said Venneman.

“The Town leadership first needs to decide whether it wants to continue with the laissez-fair approach or adopt a more supportive proactive stance towards business. To say one thing and then act differently is the worst possible outcome because this will further erode trust and goodwill. What businesses want most of all is certainty and clarity.”

The survey covered four sectors: Manufacturing, Agriculture, Health Care and the Creative Economy. Erin’s businesses are pleased with the community’s quality of life with 95% saying this is excellent or good.

Business climate, however, was much lower, with only 51% of respondents saying the business climate in Erin is good or excellent (compared to 77% countywide).

For projected sales over the next year, 56% of Erin businesses expect to see growth or remain the same and 60% have a positive outlook for their industry.

The survey said Erin owners see local strengths, including a supportive community, proximity to the GTA, short commuting time and pockets of growth such as local food.

Among weaknesses, many said they feel “tolerated, not embraced” by the Town and are not happy with the quality of information they get. They also say that property taxes, leasing costs, development costs and land prices are expensive.