Economical development

It caused a grimace when an old reeve started talking about getting some “economical development” for his small township.

The proper term is economic development, but these many years later, we wonder if he was unwittingly onto something.

The notion that something needs to be done to encourage industry and commerce is all around us today. As jobs for folks carrying lunch pails head overseas, we should all be a little concerned about employment prospects for labour and the skilled trades.

Most townships in Wellington have taken a stab at it, and the county has now embarked on a strategy; its complete mission not yet fleshed out.

A recent press release from the office of the opposition in Toronto paints a pretty stark picture of Ontario’s track record with regard to employment. As other provinces see healthy gains in employment income, Ontario barely registers as a blip. So not only are jobs hard to find, they are also not paying better for people gainfully employed. The once great heartland of the country appears hollowed out and remains a shadow of its former self. The reasons for that are many.

Other provinces have natural resources. Commodities like potash and oil have a way of driving the employment market. We are just old enough to remember the times of boom and bust in the west. Ontario, however, with a skilled workforce, successive moderate governments and access to large markets here and to the south, usually provided a good living for all.

The globalization of trade obviously has disrupted Ontario’s prospects for manufacturing. Corporations keen to generate profit for shareholders have done what most Canadians have done – sought the lowest possible price to maximize spending power.

It’s natural to want the best deal, but the unintended consequence is fewer jobs and higher unemployment.

We need jobs here if we are to sustain the standard of living Ontarians have come to expect. Further pressure will soon be exerted, as nearby states in the U.S. adopt measures that are less labour friendly than those found in Ontario.

Recognizing the challenges to improving manufacturing jobs in Ontario, let alone Wellington County, some thought needs to be given to what would be a reasonable expectation for economic development here.

There are many niche activities that small business undertakes. In the industrial subdivision where our office is located in Fergus, there are numerous businesses providing employment to workers with skills. Plants that engage in woodworking, like custom made-bars, custom-made stairs and railings, and one that manufactures fire fighting training equipment are examples of successful operations with capacity to employ others.

As the county takes its first steps, vis-à-vis hiring staff, setting up a showcase office in Guelph and undertaking a survey, we hope to soon see some performance measures and well-defined goals.

As witnessed elsewhere, and confirmed in a letter to the editor this week, without a real sense of direction such a department can quickly turn into a social club with little net result. Economic development should be job creation in the private sector, not just non-profit, propped-up operations where money goes from one pocket into another and fails to create good paying jobs.

Perhaps the simplest way to achieve that is making it easier for a businesses to establish here. We see that as a very achievable goal; cutting back red tape that business start-ups find overwhelming and frustrating.

There are numerous agencies providing guidance to business that should be reviewed and assessed to ensure the best value possible for clients and the taxpaying public.

Comprehensive land and building inventories, accompanying zoning information, hands-on assistance with name registrations, setting up corporate tax accounts, worker’s compensation set-up, information packages on health and safety regulations are all examples of the little pieces with which a start-up must contend.

There are other places a pro-active economic development climate can reverse disturbing trends. Brown-field sites, under-utilized downtown properties and shuttered plants can be profiled and made ready for consumption.

There are nooks and crannies in many towns that have buildings that would be best removed and changed to better use. Tidying up towns and encouraging in-filling on idle property is a form of economic development itself, leading to good construction jobs and better use of resources.

Once things begin to happen, it is surprising how that enthusiasm translates into more activity.

We see these ideas as an” economical” way to promote economic development activity that translates into real jobs, real assessment and real revenue for communities in Wellington.