by Mayor Nancy Peckford
Having grown up in a series of small towns in Newfoundland and Labrador, it was very clear to me, even as a child, how interwoven small businesses, entrepreneurs and innovators are into the fabric and identity of any place. There’s no doubt that North Grenville’s character, and its growth, has been and will be deeply impacted by the variety of businesses that have chosen to establish roots here, those that have made strategic decisions to expand here, and others who have, by necessity or by their own volition, closed their doors here. And it’s why economic development that is grounded in the history, realities, and hopes of our community is so vitally important.
Recently, members of the newly named Community and Economic Development Committee were invited to participate in a workshop on economic development. Our Deputy Mayor is passionate, as I am, about fostering an environment where we have a strong working relationship between the business community and the municipality, and where great care is taken to foster holistic environments for growth and success.
What struck me about this conversation was how quickly we all agreed, practically within the first hour, that growing more good jobs right here in our community needs to be among, if not, our top priority. And, as we grapple with this in a community where over 70% of North Grenville’s working population leaves our borders every morning, we were reminded of what Katie Nolan and OMAFRA repeatedly share when they deliver economic development workshops to towns like ours: that, while Amazon warehouses may look really sexy, and while they no doubt have their benefits, it is the retention and expansion of existing businesses that is crucial.
Because, overwhelmingly, businesses and entrepreneurs have already figured out the market, you have an intimate understanding of the business climate and the customer service mentality you need to succeed. And you are, more than any one else, most in tune with what needs to change, and what must stay the same, to create an enabling environment for your prosperity and by extension, our community as a whole.
So, as your new Council, we see it as our job to listen. And listen hard. We want you to know that, as your new Council, we deeply respect what you have to offer, and we embrace the opportunity to have honest and fulsome conversations with you. At the same time, it is the municipality’s job to ensure our foundation as a community is strong for smart and sustainable growth, and there are three areas where we have already invested time and energy.
The first area is County Road 43. From the day I took office, investment in crucial upgrades to CR 43 has been a daily preoccupation. This road is of huge economic, institutional, educational and agricultural importance to our community, and to the region. So, from the minute I had my first conversation with Minister Clark, and County Warden Pat Sayeau, investment in CR 43 has been my mantra. And given the state of the road, it’s not a hard argument to make. So, I am very pleased to report that, as of late yesterday, the County, in partnership with the Municipality, has submitted a joint application to the province for a significant investment of $10 million, and the County has affirmed its intention to see this project through.
I want you to know that the point of CR 43 is not to speed people up on their way to Winchester, Smith Falls, or Perth, but to slow people down. To create a signature gateway boulevard into our community that invites people to look around and enjoy unique assets like Ferguson Forest, this amazing facility, Old Town Kemptville, and our six rural hamlets.
Another area where there’s been progress is the Kemptville Campus. Many of you in this room have been directly touched by the history of Kemptville College, because it offered a unique educational experience to a family member in the past, it provided employment opportunities and/or it created or sustained a customer base or market for local businesses.
The closure of the Campus was no doubt devastating for many reasons. But, since North Grenville assumed full responsibility for the College last April, some amazing things have happened. One year later, the Kemptville Campus model as a mixed use, multi-tenant facility and is sustainable. Of 17 main buildings, 14 are partially or fully occupied. We have partnerships with four school boards, three of whom have a very strong presence on the campus already and have invested significantly in key buildings. There have been ongoing capital investments facilitated by University of Guelph & Ag Research Institute of Ontario as part of the deal.
We will embark upon master planning for the entire campus within several months. Small education gardens near the green houses have been planted by students on the campus.
By acquiring 626 acres, we did not simply inherit a collection of buildings and lands, but a mission to serve not just our community, but eastern Ontario, in ways that promote innovation and business incubation, that sustain and grow opportunities for agricultural education and advance health & wellness.
Tourism is the final area I want to address. North Grenville has 1 million people at its doorstep, many of whom are eager to find affordable, family-friendly day tourism opportunities without the crowds, the parking nightmares, and the rush. Well guess what, here we are. A brilliant blend of urban and rural, flanked by two forests, a historic Agricultural college, hamlets that take you back in time, boutique retail, a UNESCO designated water way, award winning gardens, a diversity of farms, agricultural producers, a winery and so much more. But few outside of our borders hardly even know it, not unlike I would dare to suggest, some of our own newly arrived. We need to build basic tourism infrastructure, invest in a brand identity, and capitalize on what we already have.
So, I hope this has given you a good sense of where your new Council is at, and where we want to go, alongside you. I have a favourite quote from my university days that I have often repeated. “Vision is the power to see – not just what is right in front of you, but what you know is meant to come”. I look forward to being part of a powerful vision for our community that reaps rewards, not just for the present, but for the future of North Grenville.