by Councillor Jim McManaman
I was the old guy on the Economic Development Committee; I started in 2006 when it was set up. In the beginning, we had a minimal budget, but we were getting a little bit of traction. Then, in the last two or three years, nothing much was happening. We met less and less and ended up meeting just quarterly, so if you missed one meeting, it became six months between meetings, and you didn’t know what was going on.
There was a lot of frustration with the EDC. It started out as an Advisory Committee. Then in the last few years, an attempt was made to make it a Working Committee which was difficult for most members to commit the amount of time needed. I was a bit concerned about that. I felt, too, that the leaders in that group – not just business people, but community people that were there – were there for their insights, opinions and expertise and had no time to work on large projects. So we went back to its original format as an Advisory Committee. Rob Noseworthy and others worked hard on drawing up new terms of reference for the EDC, but then the committee went dormant.
I remember apologizing to Rob during the campaign because my activity level on the EDC had dropped off in the last year or so. I was getting so frustrated with it because we weren’t getting anywhere. I told him I felt we were banging our heads against a wall and it was all falling apart, as it eventually did.
I want to take another look at the EDC, redesign it with a new perspective. I don’t think Council should be chairing that Committee, or most Committees, we should be a liaison instead. That’s what we, as a Council, have discussed. We are not the bosses, but we play a crucial function as Liaisons. And in our roles as Mayor and Council, we set the tone for what leadership can look like in our community. As a Chair, we need someone that’s close to the community, with a busi- ness sense, of course, though it doesn’t necessarily have to be a business person. I also think a large part of what was missing from the EDC was the Arts and Culture sector. We don’t even have an Arts & Culture Committee, not even as a sub-committee of the EDC, and I’d like to reach out to people about that. So, that’s the idea: that Council steps back and let the people run with it and see where it goes.
I also don’t think we’re doing the position of Economic Development officer correctly. While I recognize how hard the person currently fulfilling that role is working, I think the position itself needs to have more autonomy. There’s a friction between Planning, Building, and EDC. I don’t know where it’s going to go, but I want to look at that position: what it does, what the job responsibilities are because it has changed over the years. If we can re-conceptualize the position so that the person in the job can be as effective as possible, that’s a good thing.
I also think that the Council needs to consider having the Economic Development Officer do the marketing, do the studies, the surveys, do the stuff that the Economic Development Officers usually would do to advance the Economic Development of the Municipality. But there would be a second person that would be an Enterprise Support person, to look for problems that are happening within the business community.
To sit with them, maybe have some consulting abilities, and work with business owners who may be struggling, or expanding their business, be an Ombudsman when there’s trouble between the business and the Municipality or Council. There are headaches in this town, as we know. We campaigned on that, and we’re trying to fix that.
As a Council, we’re in the early stages of getting our Work Plan together, and I am excited by the fact that we have a strong team with diverse backgrounds and talents. In my role specifically, I want to ensure that there is help for someone new in business or who’s been around for a while, who may have a cool idea but needs help to get through all the bureaucracy. We need less bureaucracy for sure, but I’d like to ensure that there is an informal Ombudsman or community leader to help them get through, so they’re not falling through the cracks.
Council also needs to ensure that the municipality is clearly communicating and often, that’s what’s missing. Is it the person, is it the process? A lot of times, it is the process or poor communication. Businesses and residents in our community are our customers, and we need better customer service. Are we doing everything we can to help this person or organization? We can make that system a little bit smoother. I like the idea of Best Practices, and we should be looking at other communities where they have developed best practices. I’m a tweaker: if their best practice doesn’t exactly fit our situation, let’s tweak it.
Ultimately, I’d like to work with my Council colleagues and municipal staff so that North Grenville becomes the Municipality where people come to us for best practices. Why can’t we take the lead on all this stuff? Let’s get to the place where we leverage all those best practices, tweak them, and become a community where other communities are looking to see what North Grenville is doing. Maybe it’s a wish, but we should start thinking and talking that way. Let’s be the Innovators. Why not?