NORTH PERTH – Mayor Todd Kasenberg began his talk to the North Perth Chamber of Commerce on March 23 by discussing how the community has shaped the response to the pandemic.
“Let me say that none of us signed up for a pandemic and I certainly count myself in that group of people,” he said. “That said, this community has done an amazing job in responding to the many asks and the many things that have come our way. I can’t begin without acknowledging that and saying how appreciative I have been for the support I have felt personally in my role.”
Kasenberg said it doesn’t surprise him because in his short time living in North Perth he has learned it is a community that is committed to the quality of life.
“People are so generous in their spirit towards community here that we blow barn doors off of fundraising campaigns,” he said. “Our businesses make a big difference in our community … it’s a pleasure to be the chief cheerleader in some ways in all that effort.”
The focus of his talk was resilience.
“It is a word we hear a lot about and it’s a word I have thought a lot about,” said Kasenberg. “It’s a word that sort of fits with some of the consulting I do in my own professional life.”
He issued a challenge to the business community to give thought to the issue of resilience.
Kasenberg spoke of initiatives the municipality has taken since the pandemic was declared to communicate with business and agricultural communities such as teleconferences, which took place bi-weekly through the first few months of the pandemic.
Ongoing commitments from the municipality have included surveys, email and online contact and partnerships with the Listowel Business Improvement Area and the Chamber of Commerce.
“We’ve made a concerted effort at the NorthPerth.ca website to update and create a robust area of business resources to support recovery response,” he said. “We also put up a business status page and a little bit of marketing opportunity for our businesses… that was a sort of hit and miss project as you can appreciate… keeping it current is always a challenge as people move on with their activities.”
North Perth launched a marketplace that allows e-commerce transactions at shoplocalnorthperth.ca.
“This has had modest, at best, response, but we’re committed to doing this because we want to make it possible for all of our community to find solutions for their purchasing and shopping needs,” said Kasenberg. “We continue to invite those who haven’t heard about it or have been a little bit skeptical to consider it again as an opportunity in the long term.”
Several COVID recovery action groups (CRAGs) were launched by the municipality.
“They are kind of in hibernation at this point except for the Community Services CRAG largely because the need hasn’t been there but we haven’t disbanded those groups,” he said.
Kasenberg also mentioned the North Perth Eats page at the municipal website which lists local restaurants and caterers who are open for business.
There were a few other economic development initiatives he thought were worth taking note of.
The first one he mentioned was an Agricultural Science Centre which first started as a proposal for a children’s museum.
“That is slowly moving forward,” said Kasenberg. “There is still a lot of enthusiasm and excitement about the possibilities. I keep telling people we are the heart of agriculture and therefore we should be celebrating it in meaningful ways. This Ag Science Centre is a significant potential contributor to our claim of dominance in agriculture.”
Another idea he said is moving forward from economic development is the introduction of the Driftscape App which focuses on making people aware of tourist attractions and fun things to do in North Perth.
“While it may not feel like it has a whole lot of relevance now, we’re setting the stage for circumstances changing and there being more openness to travel and tourism,” said Kasenberg.
He mentioned that a downtown Wi-Fi project had been investigated but had been shelved by council because it was deemed to be cost-prohibitive.
“Finally, we’re getting excited and we’re ramping up for our façade improvement program in the downtown areas of Monkton, Atwood and Listowel,” said Kasenberg. “The municipality has a community improvement program and it has allocated funds this year which will mostly be grants to the businesses that are interested in improving their façade.”
Although Kasenberg had said the CRAGs were essentially on hiatus, there are some ideas generated when they were active which he feels will be important to recovery from the pandemic.
The key ideas he mentioned from the Agriculture CRAG were the establishment of a farmers’ market, an abattoir and an organic soy meal processing facility. The community services group focused on ideas that will make mental health supports more accessible and the Economics CRAG brought for some plans to help local businesses become more digitally competent.
“I am a bit concerned that many businesses in our community feel that they’ve got it when it comes to digital and I’m not sure that they do,” said Kasenberg. “There are some tools and support including the digital service squad from Perth County.”
He reminded Chamber of Commerce members of the recent announcement by SWIFT that three broadband projects in North Perth have been awarded funding.
“Frankly, we were the disproportionate winners in Perth County in terms of getting fibre into the ground in this phase of the SWIFT project,” said Kasenberg. “We’re going to see results for much of the eastern side of Elma Township and also the Village, a small home community to the east of Listowel on Highway 86.”
Kasenberg mentioned a recent study about the effect of the pandemic on mental health in Huron and Perth counties conducted by Dr. Leith Deacon of the University of Guelph.
“What was noted in the findings is a decrease in self-assessed mental health from before COVID-19 across all demographics – that’s probably not a surprise,” he said.
Most noteworthy in the survey results was that the 18-29-year-old cohort experienced the most significant decline in excellent mental health. There was a 71 per cent decrease in their rating of excellent and an 80 per cent increase in poor mental health.
“So our young people are struggling,” said Kasenberg.
When the focus of the result was shifted to women of the 18-29-year-old cohort there was a 95 per cent decrease in the number of people who said their mental health was excellent and a 75 per cent increase in self-assessed poor mental health.
Kasenberg returned his focus to the subject of resilience.
“The notion which is deeply meaningful is that it is not just about bouncing back from trauma, suffering or difficulty, but thriving,” he said. “Part of resilience is about coping with complexity and we certainly know that the pandemic has created complexity across all aspects of our lives and to our businesses.”
He spoke of resilience being an idea of rapid recovery to get to a stable condition allowing normal function, especially during unexpected disruptions.
“Resilience is a really important concept in the context of our lives,” said Kasenberg.
Kasenberg suggested a few practices for developing personal resilience: developing optimism; acceptance of a situation; focus on solutions; taking responsibility for one’s own life; building a support network and planning a flexible strategy for dealing with future changes.
“The truth is as humans we tend to be a little change-resistant,” he said. “This year has shaken the foundations of those who are change-resistant to the extreme and left us … in different places mentally that are not desirable in our society.”
The top seven characteristics of a resilient organization that Kasenberg found in his research are purpose – meaning that both the organization itself and its employees find meaning at work; planning; having quality work relationships; having the ability to manage significant change; exerting effort and not being stuck in a mindset which says – “I just want this to be over”; problem-solving abilities; and stress management.
“Even organizations have stress,” he said.
Kasenberg ended his talk with a challenge for individuals and organizations in North Perth to find ways to bolster their characteristics of resilience.
Colin Burrowes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Listowel Banner