Survey intended to help Wellington North retain and expand local business

Much like the Bachman-Turner Overdrive classic, Wellington North is Taking care of business, but in its own way.

In this case, it is through a Business Retention and Expansion program to consider current and future needs of the local business community.

Wellington North’s Business Economic Manager Dale Small explained funding for the program comes through the Ontario Ministry of Food and Rural Affairs.

He said the first business group reviewed was the industry and manufacturing sector.

After that, Small said the plan is to move on to review other business groups in Wellington North. The final report is intended to be posted on the township website, Small said.

Coordinator Leah Holliday was hired under a contract in September to undertake the six month review.

“We met with our economic development committee, and decided on doing manufacturing and construction industries  because they are our largest employers, and the ones most affected.”

She said 31 businesses were chosen to survey. Those were sent in early November.

“With Business Retention and Expansion, it is not just a survey, but there is the option of a one on one interview. We allowed businesses to either fill out the survey and send it back, or to call us up for an interview. We had a lot of people calling us to do an interview.”

Each one took roughly an hour and at the end there was the ability for the representative to talk about the community and what it might need.

“That part is critical to the success of the Business Retention and Expansion is talking with businesses, seeing what is wrong.”

Holliday stressed that the surveys are confidential.

She has put the results together and is producing a final report, which she anticipates would be released in mid-April for the EDC to approve.

“We had a thing called red flag issues. Development charges were a big issue, but it’s a known thing in this municipality. We knew it would pop up.”

She anticipates in the summer or fall, the committee will pick another sector of research.

“It’s going to be continuing for the next couple of years,” Holliday said.

Wellington North’s current committee is comprised of council, public members Jim Taylor, Alan Rawlins, and Stephen Dineen, and Business Economic Manager Dale Small. Short term objectives include building relationships with local businesses, to provide support, and address urgent business concerns and issues.

Long term objectives include the establishment and implementation of a plan for economic development and support an improved working relationship between the Arthur Chamber, Mount Forest Chamber, and the township.

Holliday said of the review, “Overall, it was very insightful and provides a concrete basis for future economic development plans and strategies.”

Business climate

Overall, the majority of businesses have a positive outlook and specifically stated general impression of the community as a place in which to do business is “good.”

As well, she noted business owners see a domino effect of construction businesses working with sub- trades.

Some of the biggest barriers to expansion of existing businesses appear to be water and sewer fees, availability of properly zoned land, and approval processes.

Future Plans

Holliday said over half of the business interviewed predict they will remain the same size, none will close, and two intend to expand.

Those expanding intend to hire more people, which, in turn, leads to an increase the local workforce.

Company information

Holiday said 89% of the businesses interviewed say the owners are involved in the day to day operations and are residents of the community. In addition, 89% of the businesses that responded have been in business for 26 to 35 years and are family owned.

Of those, all have succession, marketing, and business plans, she said.

Employment seems to be mixed, with 50% of workforce coming from the municipality and the other half from outside,but within Wellington County.

Business Development

Holliday said 67% of businesses surveyed are headquartered in Wellington North, while the remainder were located elsewhere in Ontario and Canada.

Looking forward to the next three years, Holliday said businesses indicated how important each of the factors will be in ensuring that a business remains competitive: product research and development, market development locally, market development outside the area, improving worker productivity, industry professional standards, workforce health and safety, energy costs, water and sewer availability and cost and business planning.

Workforce Development

For 67% of businesses the number of employees in their business has remained the same over the past three years.

Of those surveyed, 55% of businesses said the availability of workers in this area is “good,” while 67% of businesses said they have no problem retaining employees.