Joint economic development meeting held

Three northern Wellington County municipalities took the first step in what could become joint ventures in economic development.

Minto hosted the meeting Jan. 16 at Harry Stones restaurant, inviting representatives from Wellington North and Mapleton Townships.

While Minto and Wellington North have active economic development departments, Mapleton is in the process of resurrecting its economic development committee, which was scheduled to hold its first meeting Jan. 17.

Minto business and economic manager Belinda Wick-Graham told the 40 people in attendance the intent is to “share ideas,” on past economic initiatives in the northern communities, what initiatives could be shared and what initiatives representatives would like to see in their own municipalities.

“The reason for this meeting is to identify … the main things you’re working on,” she told volunteers, staff and politicians who attended.

Mapleton clerk Patty Sinnamon said she and economic development members from the community are interested to learn what initiatives have taken place.

Those attending the meeting were divided into several groups to identify economic development efforts already underway as well as new initiatives.

Drayton resident Liz Samis, a member of the Mapleton economic development committee, stressed one of the priorities for local economic development is the use of computer technology that would allow entrepreneurs to establish businesses locally.

It was a philosophy shared by Wellington North councillor Andy Lennox in the round-table discussions.

“If the technology isn’t there they [business people]can’t do it,” Lennox said.

Dave Barrett, project manager with the Saugeen Economic Development Corporation (SEDC), cited the success of community radio station Bluewater Radio 91.3 out of Hanover as an integral part of community promotion.

“Ten years ago a couple of guys had an idea for a community radio station and it’s grown from there,” Barrett said.

The non-profit radio channel has been looking to expand its coverage area with the installation of a transmitter in Mount Forest that would boost its signal to a larger coverage area.

Wellington North business and economic manager Dale Small said his municipality has been in talks with the station and garnering support for the expansion, which will eventually go with an application to the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) which is charged with approving the expansion.

Small said he was happy with the turnout and economic development initiatives discussed during the two-hour meeting.

“I really don’t know that this would have happened three years ago,” he said of the joint meeting. “We really weren’t there at that time.”

Minto councillor Rick Hembly, head of the town’s economic development committee, would like to see walking and bike trails shared between the municipalities.

“Minto is looking at a series of connected walking and biking trail links throughout Wellington County,” he said.

Small said attracting large business should be a priority for Wellington County, which is currently establishing its own economic development committee headed by Minto Mayor George Bridge.

According to Small, local efforts should focus on local initiatives such as the popular Buttertart Trail in Wellington North.

Some of the initiatives identified at the meeting included establishing farmers’ markets, setting up localized cultural events, downtown revitalization, having industrial property for businesses looking to establish or relocate, compiling community directories, hosting business showcase events, and exploring joint ventures between the municipalities.

Bridge said the meeting proved successful, adding,“I think there’s a great opportunity to move forward.”

That sentiment was echoed by Wellington North Mayor Ray Tout.

“I think this is fantastic. We’ve got three communities that can work together,” Tout said. “That’s the start of a very good thing.”

Mapleton Mayor Bruce Whale said the meeting will give Mapleton’s new economic development committee a lot to consider.

“Our economic development committee is getting back into the swing of things,” said Whale.