August 26, 2015

Ambitious plan studied for economic development

As published in The Erin Advocate

Erin’s new Economic Development Action Plan outlines a series of initiatives that will build some valuable momentum towards a stronger community, for the benefit of local businesses and residents.

Town council received the first draft of the plan, written by Economic Development Coordinator Bob Cheetham, on August 11. They hope to finalize it in September, as a guide for the next four years.

“It’s an aggressive plan – a roadmap to follow,” said Cheetham. “It’s a transparent process, and it’s always open to change. It will take the leadership of the municipal council to foster a proactive, collaborative presence and respond to the desire for change and managed growth within the Town of Erin.”

Written comments and suggestions from the public about the 68-page draft plan were requested by August 25 – a very brief opportunity, especially during the summer.

On the other hand, people have had many opportunities to comment on most of these issues in recent years, and can provide input to council and staff at any time.

The Action Plan draft can be downloaded from the Economic Development page, under Departments on the Town website,

Even if you don’t expect to offer suggestions, the document is a good read for anyone who cares about the community – an overview of what’s going on, or could soon be surfacing.

On September 3, the draft and the public comments will go for further discussion to the Erin Economic Development Committee, which along with four sector focus groups helped create the plan. The final version will be presented to Town Council for approval on September 15.

If councillors disagree with parts of the Action Plan, or feel that more public input is needed, they should seek agreement on amending it or deferring some sections. But they must avoid the trap of endless talk and no action. Some version of the plan should be approved soon, to move the process to specific measures in a “doing” phase.

The plan is not carved in stone, but is rather a framework in which “action” can actually take place. Council should choose some targets and get on with them.

While there are 51 initiatives in the plan, six are rated as “top priority”. One is to hire an Economic Development Officer – Cheetham has been on a one-year contract since last November, and expects to pass the torch to a permanent staff person.

Others include establishment of an overall Community Improvement Plan that would benefit targeted areas. There should be applications for funding for a feasibility study on a Riverside Trail / Boardwalk, and for developing Erin as an “Equine Hub”.

The Plan urges council to develop terms of reference for the Wastewater Environmental Assessment and to move forward with it, and to provide direction on which urban areas should get sewer servicing.

All of the suggested actions work towards achieving various goals: fostering a more positive business climate, building partnerships with business groups and government agencies, establishing Erin as a premier location for equine enthusiasts, promoting the town as a tourism destination and developing a sustainable economy.

Some actions relate to retaining existing business, supporting the development of under-used business properties, encouraging growth in sectors where Erin has an advantage and diversifying the economy to be more resilient.

Here is a sampling of just a few of the other action items:

• Develop a Community Profile (print and web-based);

• Work with the County for a Main Street Crosswalk in Erin village;

• Undertake a Trails Master Plan;

• Establish public washroom facilities in Erin village;

• Host a regular Business Showcase event;

• Undertake an “Open for Business” marketing campaign;

• Promote Bed and Breakfast businesses;

• Work with Headwaters Tourism on a Four-Seasons Attractions Strategy;

• Investigate a St. Patrick’s Day Festival in March;

• Investigate a winter skating environment on the Charles Street pond;

• Undertake a Transportation and Parking Plan for the urban centres of Hillsburgh and Erin village.