Renfrew – All good things must come to an end and the 66-year relationship between the Town of Renfrew and the Renfrew Industrial Commission (RIC) is coming to an end in what Mayor Don Eady calls a friendly and amicable transition. The decision to expedite the formal agreement came out of a 45-minute closed session following town council’s regular meeting on November 23. A resolution passed by council stated:
“That Renfrew Town Council agrees in principle with the concepts proposed by the Renfrew Industrial Commission as it relates to the winding up of its partnership in the operation of the Renfrew Innovation Centre.”
The building first opened as the Westinghouse plant in 1980. After the company’s closure in the 1990s, the vacant building was renamed 1 Innovation Drive and transformed into a multi-unit facility that now houses a mix of companies ranging from cutting edge technology to B.E.I Contracting, one of the area’s leading construction companies, with the occupancy translating into 100 jobs inside the building.
Mayor Eady said the RIC has done a good job of managing the building and it has proven to be a positive influence in terms of job creation within the town.
“I have to give credit to the RIC for helping to attract about 100 jobs with the companies that are in there now,” he said. “But council agrees the time has come for the town to manage the building, and that includes working with the tenants to make sure their needs are met.”
Mayor Eady said the RIC is currently working on the terms associated with the impending change and he is confident the terms will be of benefit to both parties. He noted the original mandate of the RIC has changed from when it was first formed more than six decades ago by a group of leading businessmen.
He said while the RIC is working on the terms of the separation, council put forth other conditions that needed to be incorporated into the final document. They acknowledged the receipt of a $52,836 dividend from the RIC which represents the profit from renting out the building and the town acknowledged the repayment of the $9,995 overage which has been in contention.
Council also requested the impending RIC exit strategy “be completed as expeditiously as possible to allow for a timely and successful transition.”
20-Year Management Agreement
Dave Lemkay, who has been the RIC’s executive director since 2010 (except for a brief period when he retired in 2018 but was lured back in 2020), has been the driving force for the RIC in that time and said the exit strategy is designed to make the transition a seamless one for all involved.
“We have notified the tenants and companies that service the site of the upcoming change in management and my role over the next few months is to help facilitate that change,” he said. “The bills, invoices and notifications will be transferred to the town as their responsibility and it will take effect December 31 of this year.”
When the RIC assumed the role of property manager in 2002, the organization was given a 20-year mandate with full authority in relation to financial investments into the property.
The RIC contributed one-third of investment and the town assumed the other two-thirds.
Prior to making the building available to tenants in 2002, there was extensive water damage inside the 150,000 square foot facility that needed to be repaired. Once completed, the building began attracting tenants, some of which use cutting edge technology.
Mr. Lemkay lobbied for major investments into modern security measures in order to attract tenants such as Raytheon Technologies, a leading defence contractor with highly sensitive materials that require advanced security protocols.
When it was incorporated in 1955, RIC directors set out to sustain existing industry and to attract new industry to Renfrew and area to create jobs and add to the tax base.
“Unfortunately, the word “industrial” itself seems dated because we have seen major industries bypass not just Renfrew, but much of Eastern Ontario,” Mayor Eady said. “To their credit, the RIC adapted to this and concentrated on attracting leading research companies and were successful.”
The RIC is still a consortium of local business leaders, but their influence has decreased over the years as Renfrew has joined the majority of municipal governments by establishing their own internal economic development staff members.
Their primary role is to attract outside investment and to assist local entrepreneurs create and develop strategies to help them flourish and remain in the area, which is essentially the same as the RIC.
The RIC currently has an office in the building and one of the decisions that needs to be made is whether or not they remain in the building, and what is the future of their non-profit entity.
As Mr. Lemkay, and the board of directors he represents, work towards a formal agreement outlining the RIC’s exit strategy as property manager at 1 Innovation Drive, he said the RIC was a leader in partnering the business community with government.
“All local governments have come to recognize the importance of economic development and they have staff members and policies that are similiar to what the RIC started over 60 years ago,” he said. “If you look back over the decades of its existence, the RIC had a roster of local movers and shakers who wanted Renfrew to be competitive and a leader. The group did a lot of good work and can be proud of its legacy and our priority is to exit in a way that the town can pick up where we left off and continue to make Renfrew a place to do business and flourish.”
Bruce McIntyre, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader