Municipal Government Must Do A Better Good Job Of Economic Development

Robert Kirwan
Valley East Today


The Business Retention and Expansion Program was launched in February 2005 “to stimulate economic development and growth by assisting existing businesses.”

Partners in the program include the city, the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce and the Sudbury and Manitoulin Workforce Partnerships Board, with funding from the provincial and federal governments.

The first phase of the Sudbury program was to complete a comprehensive survey of local businesses. 

The results could hardly be called "astonishing" in light of information that has been floating around the Greater Sudbury Region for years.

After conducting a survey of 126 businesses, the Chair of the Greater Sudbury Business Retention and Expansion Program, Jeanne Warwick, stated that the two major impediments to business development in this area are a skilled labour shortage and municipal government. 

Nearly 60 per cent of survey respondents identified a shortage of qualified workers as one of the major “barriers to the expansion of existing businesses and the development of new businesses in the community,” the 51 page report states. Based upon the above two survey sources, it would be interesting to determine exactly "where" businesses are experiencing the shortages.

Next on the list was a series of concerns with local government attitudes, services, costs and regulations.

“The municipal government was rated as not supportive, poor on taxes, development charges and the permit process,” the report says.

“Dissatisfaction levels ran high with street repair (80 per cent) and the planning, engineering, zoning and building permit process (48 per cent),” it states.


It is quite disturbing to note that, “71 per cent of the businesses interviewed felt that the municipality does not take an adequate role in business and economic development.”

At a gathering of business leaders where the report was unveiled, Mayor Dave Courtemanche said city council and staff will be working co-operatively with business leaders to address such concerns. He and council are committed to creating a climate in which “new businesses feel welcome and existing businesses feel appreciated,” Courtemanche told the gathering at city hall.

“It’s really existing businesses that are the future of our community,” said the mayor, who has been involved in the business retention initiative and has served as the program’s honourary chair.

Warwick said she is confident the local business community can work with the city to address the concerns that have been identified. “Mayor Dave is willing to work with us and unearth what the problems really are,” she said.

The next step in the process will include additional research and development of action plans to address priority issues, she added.

In a small survey taken among residents of Valley East, there was a feeling of disenchantment with the general reaction to the report.

According to one long-time business owner, "The report didn't tell us anything new. We've been saying for the past five years that local government was leaving us high and dry when it came to economic development. The Mayor may say that he feels existing businesses are the future of the community, but all Council seems to care about is the downtown and bringing in box store after box store. Those box stores take profits out of the community. Our small independent stores keep the profit in this community and reinvest it."

"Additional research and action plans are not the answer," stated another businessman. "All these people are doing is trying to get more provincial and federal grants to keep themselves busy writing reports. What we need is a 'take-charge' type of Mayor who is going to make things happen. Talk is cheap. It's time to do something."

Several people we spoke to indicated that at least when we had our own Valley East Economic Development Committee we knew that there were people who cared about what happened in Valley East. Some favoured the establishment of another such committee.

Yet others echoed the sentiment of  Vicki Smith, chair of the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce, who feels that local business should accept a more active role in economic development. 

This is an issue that must be addressed during the current election campaign. If local government is not going to be able to handle the challenge of stimulating economic development, then it should "free the reigns" from the private sector and tell the businesses to do it alone. At least then someone will be taking responsibility and not just assuming that the job is getting done only to find out that no progress has been made in the past five years.

In conclusion, we know that the municipal leaders can put together a long list of accomplishments and advances that have been made in the local economy during the past five years. However, when 71% of 126 business leaders state that they do not feel the local government is not taking an adequate role in business and economic development, there is a problem. And it is a problem that must be addressed.

As a footnote, while more than 95% of the people surveyed identified the quality of life in Greater Sudbury as a major asset to the city, 53% stated that the current image of Greater Sudbury was also considered to be holding back the economic development of the region. Therefore, whatever the local government has been doing to try to improve the image, it has not been getting through to the local businesses who responded to the survey.

Further disturbing news was that only 50% of the firms surveyed indicated that they were looking to expand or sustain their current base of operations. This means that almost 50% of our businesses are considering other options such as downsizing, closing or relocating. Not good news for people looking for employment.




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