Small thinking big to promote Wellington North as great spot for businesses

In Well­ington North the task of promoting the area is split among two people.

Dale Small, Business and Economic Manager, is responsible for the development of commerce and economic development activities within the township and ensuring the sustainable growth of a diverse and stable economy.

Donna Jack, Tourism, Mar­keting and Promotion Man­ager, is responsible for creating and implementing strategies and directives as well as ex­panding current events and attractions to promote a professional standard of tourism, promotion, and marketing activities.

Now six months into the job, Small said, “clearly economic development in this municipality has a  high degree of focus.” He said that is evident from the fact Wellington North has dedicated economic development people.

He said he and Jack are part time and contract employees “but we’re both dedicated to economic development.” He considered that in itself is relatively unique in Wellington County.

“My understanding is there is Centre Wellington, Minto, ourselves, and the City of Guelph with dedicated economic development people,” Small said. He is uncertain how the issue is dealt with in the other municipalities; whether through the CAO or other means.

“In Wellington North, it certainly has that sense of importance,” he said.

Small believes there is more potential in the county to partner in various areas.

“What’s good for Minto is good for Wellington North,” Small explained. He said if Minto attracts a large manufacturing plant, there is the potential to employ people in Mount Forest.

“The more we can work together on economic development activities, the better everyone will be.”

In the six months in the job, Small said, “What’s been interesting, in the first three months on the job, I didn’t have any phone calls – from developers or people looking whether there was any industrial land for sale. But in the last three months, I’ve had a bunch. From that standpoint, things are picking up.”

In terms of building permits, he anticipates for 2009 the stats will likely be as good as 2007 and probably match those of 2008 (higher than 2007).

“That’s a good sign, that those have bounced back.”

He said one of the benefits of Wellington North, “is that we really have the infrastructure in place now.”

He cited the Big Dig Main Street reconstruction is now over, “and the main street looks tremendous.”

However, he said that ex­tends all the way through the municipality – alluding to the reconstruction work on High­way 6 between Arthur and Mount Forest.

“It’s not done yet, but it will be done soon … When you talk infrastructure that is a tremendously positive thing for Well­ington North.”

He noted the completion of the wastewater treatment plant in Mount Forest will accommodate growth in the future.

Whether it is the new child care centre, the new Sports complex in Mount Forest, the new library and medical clinic in Arthur, “There’s been a lot of good things going on in our infrastructure, which will sustain us well, when the development does come.

“I don’t think we’re the only municipality not having tremendous growth at this point in time.”

He referred to statistics generated by the Saugeen Eco­nomic Development Corpora­tion indicating everything is down. Small said when he does get the calls, “the infrastructure can help differentiate between places.”

Initially, they want to know if the municipality has land, whether it is serviced – and is it available.

“Then they immediately move on to find out what is going on within the community.” Small said Wellington North has generated a community information profile which covers off most of that information – “and what are all the good things are the community has to offer.”

He noted as part of Well­ington North’s 10th anni­versary celebrations re­cently, it launched a newly designed website, expected to be live by the end of October.

“Then it will be a lot easier for people to find information and find out what’s going on in the community.”

Small said Wellington North has an economic development strategy to retain and attract economic opportunities. He hoped the upcoming In­dustry Innovators will become an annual event.

Over 500 businesses have been invited from the Well­ington North area, as well as 16 business and government groups.

“Any business knows your most important asset is your customer,” Small said. “These businesses and industries are our customers. One of the best ways to stimulate economic development is to making sure we are taking care of our customers and breaking down any barriers they have to growth.”

From an economic development perspective, “It’s easier to grow an existing business than to be out there on the street with everybody else trying to get new business in.”

While he agreed it is very important to attract new business, it is important to take care of the existing businesses as well. He said the intent of the business retention and expansion survey is to discover how to better help businesses already in the community.

Land development is another issue. He said Wellington North has been actively supporting the Places to Grow Plan for the province and Well­ington County. That plan looks at growth forecasts both in Wellington North and the county as a whole.

“That’s essentially telling us that based on the growth forecasts within Wellington North, we have enough industrial land, we have enough residential land – zone land. We might be a little short on commercially zoned land.”

However, he explained the land is zoned – not owned – by the municipality. He also noted that the amount of land is based on a 20 year forecast.

“In the short term, we are in good shape, based on the Places to Grow Plan. The one challenge we have in Well­ing­ton North, is that as a municipality, we don’t own the land.

“All the economic development gurus say what industry is looking for is municipally-owned and serviced industrial land.”

He said when companies make a decision to build, they want to move quickly. As a result, one of the strategies is considering expanding the muni­cipally-owned land base.

Other parts of the program include downtown and rural revitalization, tourism, and health care.

In downtown revitalization, Small said one can look at what has happened in downtown Mount Forest, but added Arthur has a strong committee as well.

“They are a very active com­munity, headed up by Mary Schmidt, that’s done a lot of good work in terms of streetscaping.”

Small also met recently with members of OMAFRA which has a number of programs for business expansion and retention.

He said that in 2010, Well­ington North will be considering OMAFRA’s downtown revitalization program as a funding opportunity.

Earlier this year, Minto received considerable funding under that same program. Small said there are lots of different programs out there.

“The challenge is to stay on top of them all and to tap into them.”

He views health care as tremendously important from an economic development standpoint  for attracting and retaining businesses.

Small said, again, the challenge is not that there is not enough sufficiently zone land, but that it is not municipally-owned. While the township does not have municipal business licences, it does have them for vendor operations.

In the realm of current new business negotiation, Small ex­plained, “It is always difficult to talk about … but the answer is, ‘Yes’.”

Again, he explained that in the first three months, there were no calls, but in the past three months, there’s been a dozen enquiries.

“Some are just enquiries, but some are actually quite potentially positive.”

He said the discussions on the development of the Murphy  lands at south end of Mount Forest are still quite active. He also noted the recent approval of the wind turbines near Ar­thur.