Economic development is one of the most important portfolios within a municipality. A municipality thrives when there is a strong emphasis on economic development. It attracts investment into the community. This brings jobs, growth, and more services. Growth and vitality of a community hinges on a diverse economic development plan and implementation. Recent discussions around the SDG Counties Council table, and seeing what our neighbours are doing, begs the question: is the county falling behind? Yes.
As SDG is the upper-tier municipality, and there are six lower-tier municipalities including South Dundas, that is seven entities that must work together to a point. It doesn’t always happen, but there has been improvement in the past few years. Launching a stand-alone tourism department at the Counties, the Community Improvement Program, and the new Spark Program that was announced last week are all good steps. But it is not enough and part of the reason is structure.
Our neighbours are doing better. Leeds-Grenville, Brockville, Prescott, even Edwardsburgh-Cardinal – all these municipalities have been growing investment through economic development. Edwardsburgh-Cardinal’s industrial park is bustling with investment; Prescott and Brockville each have landed multiple new businesses in the past year. Most recently is the 3M expansion in Brockville to build N-95 masks for the federal and provincial governments, and several industrial park property sales in Prescott.
Prescott-Russell is building a $36 million vegetable processor and abattoir, in a public-private partnership, which will solidify that county as the agri-food breadbasket of Eastern Ontario. Having a strong presence in economic development, a plan, and a will to succeed, will pay dividends year after year. And then there is SDG.
Tourism has been a big focus, but that only goes so far. And as seen with the tourism industry collapse due to COVID-19, we need to diversify our economy. That means looking for manufacturing opportunities, investing in agri-food production, while continuing to enhance tourism.
To do that, SDG needs to realign its administration to make economic development a standalone department, equal in status to that of departments like transportation. Failure to make economic development a priority, the most important priority, will ensure that the Counties, and the municipalities therein, will continue to be bedroom communities for others.