Cheetham”™s mission is to make a positive impact on Erin”™s economy

Bob Cheetham is a man on a mission.

As Erin’s newly contracted economic development professional, he’s been given one year to make a positive impact on the town’s economic development framework.

Council allocated funds in the 2014 budget to hire, on a one-year contract, an economic development professional who would be responsible for developing an economic development framework plan for the Town of Erin.

On June 17, council passed a resolution authorizing the CAO to develop terms of reference and negotiate the services of an economic development professional for a one-year contract. In a presentation to current and future councillors, Cheetham talked about the deadline to make that work happen – December 2014 to January 2015.

He characterized his work as building a framework to seize opportunities.

The idea behind bringing on Cheetham with a 12-month contract was for Erin to bring in someone to develop an economic development framework and plan for the Town of Erin.

His responsibilities would include but are not limited to:

– re-establishment of Erin’s economic development committee with representation from all sectors of the business community;

– developing a detailed economic development plan for the Town of Erin;

– outreach to the business community – follow up with BR+E interview participants wishing further information and help;

– detail the target measures with an action plan as to how to get there;

– develop a customer-orientated program to sustain businesses to support the town’s strategic vision;

–  develop a community profile with social-economic information and imagery highlighting the competitive advantages of Erin;

– capitalize on the immediate opportunities available through the County of Wellington’s economic development initiatives as well as the Hills of Headwaters;

– partner with Mount Forest to conduct a First Impressions Community Exchange; and

– develop a tourism opportunity leveraging the 2015 Pan-Am Games.

Cheetham told councillors he is impressed with what Erin can potentially offer.

“The Equine Task Force report opened my eyes to the assets you have here,” said Cheetham, adding another point in the community’s favour is its proximity to the GTA.

He quickly recommended initiating an Erin Equine Alliance and the establishment of a community ambassador program which offers training in customer service.

Even though Cheetham has a one-year contract, he said  Erin needs to think about things in the long term.

Once the local EDC is reestablished, Cheetham hopes to report back to the new council and have the new committee in operation by February. His role is to develop a detailed economic plan for Erin using both existing resources and recommending an approach for gathering public input to present for council support.

Cheetham hopes to begin implementation the public process and EDC review in March or April of 2015 and begin writing a three-year economic development action plan in May or June.

Cheetham hopes implementation of the 2015/18 Economic Development Action Plan could begin in July.

In short, Cheetham said council could choose to stick with the “status quo” or to seek out and “seize opportunities” as they arose.

He characterized the status quo as follows:

– lack of development action plan and vision;

– perceived as being “closed door” to business community;

– lacks community collaborative attitude;

– limited marketing exposure;

– failure to capitalize on existing potential;

– no perceived municipal coordination or leadership;

– difficulty in dealing with municipal permitting process;

– lacking certainty and clarity;

– serious infrastructure issues; and

– high residential taxes.

Cheetham said seizing opportunities would entail:

– council commitment to economic development budget and coordination role;

– re-establishing a municipal economic development committee structure;

– building on BR+E survey results and adopting five-year municipal strategic plan;

– leading by example and fostering a collaborative service-oriented approach;

– establishing a task group initiatives and develop a new economic development action plan;

– marketing community assets and promote development opportunities (website and multimedia);

– coordinating and inspiring business networking and growth;

– initiating “Community Ambassador” program; and

– investigating and inspiring tourism opportunities and growth.

On a one-year contract with the town, Cheetham will not be moving to Erin, but rather getting a place in/near Erin to work from during the week.

CAO Kathryn Ironmonger noted that part of the funds to hire Cheetham are based on a grant from Wellington County.

Ironmonger said that in September, the chair of the county’s Economic Development Committee gave her verbal confirmation that Erin’s grant application would be forwarded for Wellington County council’s approval on Oct. 30.

She stated the 2014 Erin budget allocated $65,000 for economic development which includes the $25,000 county grant – subsequently approved by the county last week.

The total contract amount is $70,000, which is more than the town budgeted for.

However Ironmonger remained positive in the outcome of an application of an additional $25,000 county grant.

“If there is no additional grant, the contract will be clawed back accordingly,” she said.

Mayor Lou Maieron spoke to what had happened in the revitalization of Elliott Lake and whether that could be something for Erin to consider. Cheetham wasn’t certain the seniors’ market was the right fit for Erin.

Councillor Barb Tocher asked whether Erin could capitalize on being a bedroom community. She said she has seen a shift in the way businesses operate – from bricks and mortar – to internet-based businesses.

Tocher  commented on part of Cheetham’s proposal to Smith Falls which hired him for a similar job.

In those recommendations, Cheetham had recommended the creation of a four-person economic development department.

“That would be a very difficult pill to swallow,” she said.

Cheetham said he has no aspirations of recommending anything of that scale – but he also pointed out much of the funding for what he proposed would be paid via various government programs.

Another comment by Tocher was that if Erin wanted to consider attracting light industry to the area, it may need to look at once again offering pre-serviced industrial lands – as the current stockpile of those lands is now nearly used up.

Council subsequently resolved to receive the economic development professional’s one-year contract report.