Economic development staff present 2022 review to council

MINTO – The town’s economic development staff presented Minto council with a review of 2022 department activities on March 7.

Economic and community development director Belinda Wick-Graham said “2022 was luckily more normal” than 2020 and 2021, which were more heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wick-Graham noted economic development is “a process of targeted activities and programs that work to improve the economic well-being and quality of life of a community by building local wealth, diversifying the economy, creating and retaining jobs and building the local tax base.

“And here in Minto, we really believe that to do that we work with our business, community residents, community groups in an all-in team effort to do this successfully,” she stated.

With pandemic restrictions still in place early in 2022, the department kicked off the year with a Minto Spreads Kindness program.

“It was kind of a challenging start to 2022 with lockdowns happening again, the mask mandate, all that stuff,” she explained.

“So we reached out to the community and we’re able to collect $7,600 that was donated by residents and businesses … we went out and purchased local gift cards and supported restaurants and just went around surprising people on the street trying to raise people’s spirits.”

Wick-Graham added, “We went into the hospitals, the nursing homes, the schools, gave out treats, doughnuts and coffees and just really tried to support our struggling restaurants while at the same time spreading kindness.”

As restrictions eased through the spring, “we pretty quickly got back to launching all of our in-person events,” said marketing and community development coordinator Erin Raftis.

She noted the department organized or assisted with a total of 88 community events in 2022, in addition to 15 workshops operated from the LaunchIt community hub.

Events ranged from a hosting a newcomers’ reception and supporting Minto Youth Action Council activities, to organizing street celebrations and festivals in all three Minto urban centres – Clifford, Harriston and Palmerston.

The department distributed 6,000 community guides offering information on “what we’re up to throughout the year so people can save the dates and learn all about our community,” Raftis pointed out.

Economic development staff also worked with the public works department and Clifford and Harriston horticulture societies to present promotional efforts promoting 2022 as the Year of the Garden, including a contest allowing local residents to show off their gardens.

Staff also worked with the Grey Wellington Theatre Guild, Minto Arts Council and Supporting the Performing Arts in Rural and Remote Communities to host as series of workshops on arts-related topics.

Wick-Graham pointed out the town’s Move to Minto campaign was a “multiple award-winning project” which included online, video and branding components aimed at promoting the merits of living in Minto.

The economic development staff also worked with the building and treasury departments on the expansion of the Lions Medical Centre in Harriston.

“We have tenants going into the expanded space and (treasurer Gordon Duff) and I are working on recruiting other tenants in the medical space to fill the other offices,” said Wick-Graham.

“We also worked with the Wellington-Waterloo Dufferin Workforce Planning Board, the Career Education Council, Waterloo Region … to create two campaigns.”

One campaign, a Day in the Life series focused on TG Minto, the Palmerston and District Hospital and C and M Seeds, highlighted various careers available in those workplaces.

“And that was all over YouTube and spread out across the region,” Wick-Graham noted.

A First Job campaign provided an opportunity for people to share what their first job was and how the skills that learned helped them further on their careers, “trying to showcase to students that those first jobs are important,” she explained.

Wick-Graham noted the municipalities of Minto, Mapleton and Wellington North formed an economic development partnership facilitating mentorship and collaboration and LaunchIt services were expanded to serve all of northern Wellington.

The partnership also provides an advisor for local businesses, an online jobs and housing portal, and promotes activities and opportunities in the region.

In support of local businesses, Minto:

– offered the 2022 Pitch It competition, encouraging local entrepreneurs by offering more than $30,000 in cash and prizes to assist with establishing and expanding businesses; and

– provided over $28,000 in Community Improvement Program grants, generating over $64,000 in private investment in local businesses.

Also in 2022, the town sold four industrial lots for local business expansion with two further lot sales pending in 2023.

Street party – The Harriston Street Party hosted by Harriston Rising on July 9 was among the events highlighted in a 2022 year in review presentation to Minto council by the town’s economic development staff on March 7. Community News file photos

A Think Minto First program operated through LaunchIt and the Minto Chamber of Commerce has resulted in the sale of over $97,000 worth of gift cards for local businesses, with $21,000 raised for community organizations through sales of the cards.

“This has been an incredibly successful program, and really forward-thinking of our chamber of commerce,” said business development coordinator Somer Antonopolis.

She pointed out the Minto Chamber of Commerce, which partners with the town on LaunchIt operations, is uniquely positioned to assist with local economic development.

“Everyone that sits around that table is an owner of a business and most of them are also owners of their bricks and mortar location, which gives us a really unique perspective on … the information that we gather and how we strategically plan and move forward,” she noted.

Antonopolis reported the local chamber has 260 businesses and organizations as members, representing approximately 60% of the local retail sector.

“We’re really proud of that, because I think most chambers sit between 20 and 30%,” she noted.

In partnership with Mapleton and Wellington North, the Minto chamber and Launchit also facilitate the Digital Main Street program, which helps local businesses introduce an online element to their operations.

In 2022 the program provided 285 business consultations and 104 businesses in the region received a total of $260,000 in Digital Transformation Grants funded by the federal government.

Town staff also work with three local downtown business organizations – Harriston Rising, Clifford Connects and All Aboard Palmerston – to host events and raise funds for downtown enhancement projects.

Among the numerous activities hosted by the groups in 2022 were:

– a Halloween Haunt in Harriston that drew more than 400 trick or treaters to the downtown;

– a new Raleway Festival at the Palmerston Heritage Museum that also drew over 400 attendees; and

– the Clifford Carnival that brought in hundreds to shop and celebrate summer in Clifford.

Funds raised by the downtown groups facilitated or assisted with numerous downtown beautification projects, including:

– a new mural at the Palmerston pool;

Christmas lights for Celebration Square in Clifford; and

– completion of the Cook Car renovation at the Palmerston Railway Heritage Museum.

Raftis offered “a big shoutout to all the businesses and the volunteers in our community who sit on these committees and make all these events and beautification efforts possible.”

The department also supports local volunteers with such efforts as volunteer spotlights on social media, operation of a volunteer portal to assist with recruiting and collaborations with various local organizations and service groups.

“Our volunteers are super important to everything that we do in our department. So we can’t thank them enough for making Minto the community that it is,” said Raftis.

Wick-Graham added, “With our department, what we do is not possible without the support of our other departments, and the staff in the other departments, as well as the community groups and businesses.”

“I just want to thank you for all you do,” said councillor Ed Podniewicz.

“This is a year in review, but it seems to me that this is more like two or three years of work. Excellent job.”

Councillor Ron Elliott said, “You guys do a great job. I’ve known that for years … especially how you work with volunteers.

“You guys are the reason a lot of volunteers come forward and do a lot of things.”

“Thank you for all the hard work you do is,” said Mayor Dave Turton. “You give everybody else the credit and you need to take some for yourself.”

Wick-Graham acknowledged the support of current and past councils for economic development programs.

“I’ve been here for 18 years and we were one of the first in the county to get into economic development,” she said.

“And for our size there’s a lot of places that only have one ec dev person and this would not all get accomplished with one person.

“So we really appreciate council seeing the value in ec dev and the work that we’re doing to make Minto a great place, not only for businesses but for residents.”

Council received the report as information.