by Deron Johnston
This past Friday, the North Grenville Municipal Centre was the site of the Leeds Grenville Economic Development Summit. This is the tenth anniversary of the summit, and it has been hosted in North Grenville every year. The event is a partnership between the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville (UCLG), M.P.P. Steve Clark, the 1000 Islands Workforce Development Board, and the 1000 Islands, Grenville and Valley Heartland Community Futures Development Corporations.
The morning started off with a video memorial to Gord Brown, highlighting all of his work in the riding over his years as M.P. Steve Clark M.P.P., who is also the Ontario Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, followed right after and talked about the Provincial Government’s Fall Economic Development Statement, including the government’s desire to build more housing and eliminate 25% of the red tape that negatively affects Ontario businesses.
The first keynote speaker of the day was Cheryl Brown – President and Managing Director of Le Boat. Le Boat provides self-driving boats for rent to travellers from all over the world. With their North American head office now in Smiths Falls as of this year, they welcomed 1,350 visitors this Summer, in their first year of operation. The “Horizon” model of boat that is being rented was uniquely designed and made for Canadian waters. Currently, Smiths Falls is the only pick up and drop off point for rentals, but a base will be added in Seeley’s Bay in 2019.
After the morning break, UCLG Economic Development Manager, Ann Weir, gave an update on Leeds Grenville Economic Development, including what’s happened over the past ten years and where UCLG is headed for 2019.
The final speaker before lunch was Bruce Linton, Chair, co-CEO, and co-founder of Canopy Growth Corporation. Fresh off the plane from Las Vegas, Bruce outlined how his company, based in Smiths Falls, has grown over the last few years. They now have 4.3 million square feet of production space and over 800 employees in their Smiths Falls facility. He expects to have as many as 2,000 employees by the end of 2019. One of the key areas of growth that Bruce sees for cannabis is in the adult beverage sector, giving people a low calorie choice compared to beer, wine and spirits.
Immediately following the break for lunch (catered by local business Catered Affairs), The Bill Thake Memorial Economic Development Leadership Award was handed out for the seventh time. Originally introduced in 2011, the award “recognizes and celebrates a volunteer who has shown outstanding commitment and leadership in the growth and vitality of the Leeds Grenville economy”. Sometimes referred to as the “Warden’s Award”, this year’s recipient was Doug Bond. Also nominated this year was North Grenville community pillar Geraldine Taylor, who was the local favourite and made it a very tough call in choosing a winner.
After the award ceremony, Pierre Cleroux, Vice President Research and Chief Economist of Business Development Bank of Canada, who has spoken at this event many times, took over to talk about “Challenges and Opportunities Ahead for Canadian Businesses”. Pierre shared that the Canadian economy is operating at full capacity right now, and he expects the economy to grow 2.1% this year and another 2.0% next year. If not for a couple of factors like very low oil prices and a serious shortage of skilled labour in Canada, the economy would be even stronger. Another indicator of how strong the economy is right now is the 40-year low unemployment rate of 5.6% in Ontario.
Another top presenter was Stephen Sliwa, Director of Education for the Upper Canada District School Board. Mr. Sliwa, a 2017 graduate, and a current student discussed “Shaping Our Future Workforce Together.”
This year’s summit was another very informative event, showcasing not only what’s happening in Leeds Grenville, but also what’s happening around us, and the positive effects it could have for our area. Congratulations to Joanne Poll, Deanna Clark and Ann Weir for their hard work in bringing everything together.