Counties debate economic development planning

·4 min read

SDG – Should upper and lower tier municipalities have one unified message for economic development, or is more autonomy the way to go?

SDG Counties councillors debated this issue during a Committee of the Whole meeting February 1st, where the topic of what direction the counties want to go for economic development was up for discussion.

Counties CAO Tim Simpson presented the draft plan again for economic development, which includes hiring a new economic development manager.

The position is currently vacant after the resignation of Nick Seguin in late 2020.

“I’d like to have a sense if council is comfortable with moving forward in this direction, or if you are not,” Simpson said.

He presented the draft plan’s five year vision which includes affordable internet, brand recognition in Ontario and Quebec, filling existing industrial parks and marketing vacant industrial and commercial properties, promoting job creation, increase access to natural gas, and attracting young families to the region.

The plan also brought forward six more detailed priorities to be tackled over the next two years: economic development advocacy; digital tools for the county’s marketing efforts; regional investment to grow development; developing the Regional Incentives program; creating a strong Counties brand; and attracting small business and producers to locate in SDG.

Many of the priorities were identified as SDG taking the lead in implementing, while some priorities would be shared with the Economic Development Departments at each of the six lower-tier municipalities in the county. Only two sub-priorities had the County taking a support role with the lower-tier municipalities being the lead.

Discussion was split on geographic lines, namely north-east versus south-west.

“Without an [Economic Development Officer] this is going to be tough to get through [the plan],” Councillor Tony Fraser (North Dundas) told council.

He said he wasn’t sure how the plan would go forward without someone there to support staff efforts and the lower-tier municipalities.

“There are things there that are well thought out, well discussed, and I think we need to follow through,” Fraser added.

Councillor Kirsten Gardner (South Dundas) said that when she looked at the plan she was looking at the future.

“When we look at some of these priorities, some of them could be divvied up to the communications person,” she said.

Gardner said that the focus for an economic development manager should be on regional investment and attracting small business.

“Those two elements are what I’d like to see guide our recruitment for this individual,” she said, adding that to bring the counties to a higher level, those priorities will be the most challenging for the role.

Councillor Jamie MacDonald (North Glengarry) voiced his concerns about how an SDG plan would impact the work already being done by lower-tier departments.

“I think we really need to look at the model we want to use,” he said of the Counties Economic Development Department. “If you look locally, we are all doing something different in each of our municipalities because we are different.”

MacDonald said as an example that North Glengarry is working on growing residential development in Maxville.

Municipalities along the St. Lawrence River have waterfront development, and North Dundas is closer to Ottawa.

“I think we’re different and we need to keep that identity locally but yet work together as the county as an umbrella,” he said. “I don’t know exactly what that looks like but we need to keep our local identities and our local EDOs working closely with the Counties.”

Concerns were also raised by Councillor Carma Williams (North Glengarry).

“One of the things that concerns me about regional economic development and local economic development is there needs to be a clarity in terms of the relationship between the two,” she said.

Councillor Steven Byvelds (South Dundas) said that he thought having a strong central leader in the economic development role.

“We all have our individual strengths, our individual needs, but if we can think a bit more regionally whatever works well in one area can also work in another area,” he said.

“I think we need to decide if we are going to think regionally or think locally.”

He added that he thought the work at the Counties level can support the local level economic development.

“I believe we need to think regionally,” Byvelds said.

Simpson said with the input from councillors that staff will proceed with beginning the hiring process for the new manager position.

Phillip Blancher, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Leader