What exactly is economic development? Upon ‘googling’, this definition sounds like the most comprehensive: “From a policy perspective, economic development can be defined as efforts that seek to improve the economic well-being and quality of life for a community by creating and/or retaining jobs and supporting or growing incomes and the tax base.” Based on my limited knowledge, that sounds about right. It also shows that economic development is very important, especially for a municipality like North Grenville that is seriously lacking in middle income jobs.
Economic development is currently part of the planning and development department of the municipality. For some time now, people have asked why they’re together as one department. This seems like a lot of eggs in one basket. Because of the significant residential growth that’s expected in North Grenville over the next ten years or so (an estimate of 3000 new homes depending on who you talk to), you would think that the planning department would have its hands full and should be the primary focus for a director. At the same time, based on the definition above, economic development seems equally important, if not more so. Why doesn’t council consider making economic development it’s own department and have it operated by a director and staff dedicated solely to its purpose, rather than sharing a director with another equally important but busy group? It would make sense for the municipality and council to consider directing significant budget resources to this area to start attracting investment to North Grenville.
Consider that nearly two thirds of our working residents have to leave the municipality every day for work. This means that they are more likely to spend their money outside of North Grenville as well. That money spent locally could create more jobs and add more tax revenue for the municipality. Also consider the increased traffic, shorter life span of North Grenville roads and the pollution caused by all of those vehicles on the road every day. Will the number of people leaving North Grenville for work increase or decrease with our anticipated residential growth? There’s currently very few middle to high income jobs here, so logically, it appears likely that number would increase. However, it stands to reason that if there were more of these jobs, more people would consider living here and buying a home. Why would a family move here when it would add at least an hour to their time away from home and family each day? In order for the number of these jobs to increase, the economic development department will have a vital role to play.
Raising taxes isn’t necessary to create an economic development department, it’s only a matter of re-allocating budget resources to where they’re potentially most productive. It should be considered an investment that has the potential to bring back many more times that money in new tax revenues and new jobs. There’s also funding available through both the federal and provincial governments to help pay for projects like this. The economic development department has applied for this type of funding before, both for itself and on behalf of local businesses.
What North Grenville doesn’t currently have for economic development is “boots on the ground”. Instead of hiring an additional employee for economic development if council decides that’s not an option, North Grenville could work on renewing their partnership with the North Grenville Chamber of Commerce and the Old Town Kemptville Business Improvement Area (BIA). These organizations, if supported by the municipality, could provide someone to do the necessary legwork to recruit businesses and build relationships with prospective partners. If the municipality doesn’t want to add more staff, then it should seriously look at granting money out of this year’s budget to one or both of these organizations (and help them apply for further government funding) so they can pay a full time employee to do this critical type of work.
Economic development in Eastern Ontario is a very competitive field. Every municipality in the region is competing with each other for the very few opportunities that come along. Economic development staff in North Grenville seem to be well organized and prepared for these opportunities. Some of the smaller municipalities have no economic development staff, so we have an advantage on them. However, the only way to press that advantage is to have someone dedicated to doing the job of “knocking on doors” in order to pursue opportunities, rather than sitting and waiting for one to show up like everyone else. You can prepare to win the lottery, but if no one picks the numbers and buys the ticket, you have no chance of winning. We need a ticket, good jobs are too important for us to not be in the draw.