Blue Mountain Ratepayers' Association

Owen Sound Mayor issues business challenge

Originally Published By Scott Dunn, Sun Times, Owen Sound

OWEN SOUND – Owen Sound Mayor Ian Boddy challenged the local chamber of commerce to get on with organizing a private-sector-led regional economic development effort, in remarks Tuesday at the annual mayor’s breakfast forum organized by the chamber.

He spoke after guest speaker, On The Bay magazine publisher Jeff Shearer, described a private-sector-led, regional development approach in the Wasaga Beach to Meaford area. He initiated the not-for-profit “think and do tank” called the “Institute of Southern Georigan Bay.”

It excludes politicians to avoid political turf wars and bureaucratic slowdowns, Shearer said, and aims to act as a catalyst for change by “connecting silos” under four “pillars of prosperity.” Those are Social Justice, Arts/Culture/Entertainment, Business/Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and Environment.

Owen Sound & District Chamber chief executive officer Peter Reesor invited Boddy, Meaford Mayor Barb Clumpus, Chatsworth Township Mayor Bob Pringle and Grey County Warden Al Barfoot, the mayor of Georgian Bluffs, to comment on what Shearer said.

Boddy’s comments were the most pointed and extensive.

He started by quoting the 1961 inaugural address of President John F. Kennedy, which advised citizens to not ask what their country can do for them but what they can do for their country.

That was an era of boards of trade and chambers of commerce with very little municipal input, Boddy said.

“It was supposed to be the brightest minds in the community working together to add their expertise to make it better,” he said. But at some point, expectations changed “and we ended up relying so much on municipalities to do everything for us.”

But he noted how the business community has helped the city most recently with private investment “angels” who came forward publicly last week to announce they want to fund strong, growth-oriented local companies. The mayor said more initiative like that is needed.

He noted the chamber in its newsletter a year ago proposed the city needed a separate economic development corporation formed by private business expertise, without waiting for municipal participation.

“We’re a year later, and it hasn’t happened yet. So I give it back to not ask what your county can do for you, but what you can do for your county or your municipality or north Grey.”

Boddy said someone like Shearer is needed to “grab the ball, run with it . . . I really challenge you in the community, challenge the chamber of commerce, challenge people to pull it together. Put it together. Take it and run with it,” and they can count on the county to work with them, he said.

Others picked up on that theme.

Stan Didzbalis, the public face of the Bluewater Angels financing group, told the meeting “we can’t just expect the municipalities and the politicians to do it,” but it’s everyone’s responsibility to work together.

Chamber advocacy committee member Ross Kentner told the meeting that Boddy’s remarks were “very right . . . We pushed the idea but we didn’t pick up and run with it that ball and run with it ourselves . . . .”

Reesor said in an interview afterwards that Shearer’s institute idea may be a “softer way” to create a more co-operative environment across municipalities. The aim is for business people to talk about economic development “peer-to-peer” with business prospects, and identify maybe two or three sectors on which to focus, he said.

“We are going to need champions from the private sector to move this forward,” Ressor agreed.

He said the chamber will go back to the advocacy committee and “try to figure out how to start moving forward on this. It’s not going to be easy. It’s not going to be done overnight.”

Boddy and the other mayors listed examples of how they have demonstrated support for a regional approach to economic development.

The city is paying the wages of Grey County’s new economic development officer, Steve Furness, who spent years in that role for the city, Boddy noted. He said the county chief administrative officer, Kim Wingrove, meets monthly with all the CAOs of the lower-tier municipalities in the county to share ideas. “That’s getting the elected politicians out of the way.”

He and Barfoot have promoted real estate, economic development, the golf course community at Cobble Beach, just north of the city, and its annual concours car show, he said. The county, South Bruce Peninsula and Georgian Bluffs joins Cobble Beach’s monthly marketing telephone phone-in meeting, he said.

Owen Sound is also supporting a Bruce County initiative to try to attract companies to supply Bruce Power as it gears up to rebuild six of its eight nuclear reactors. The city hosts the Business Enterprise Centre which helps people across municipal borders and, he added, Grey gave Georgian College $1 million for its new marine training centre, though all of Grey-Bruce benefits.

Clumpus said she agrees with a regional economic development approach and she said collaboration is taking place, such as the Apple Pie Trail and the Saints and Sinners tours of the area which cross municipal boundaries. She viewed Shearer’s institute idea as a means of championing collaboration.

Pringle said the Keady Market draws thousands from across political boundaries already, noting it’s harder to attract business than visitors. He agreed with something Shearer said about the need to focus on the age 30 to 40 years demographic because they’re at an entrepreneurial stage of life who like starting small businesses in areas with amenities including being near bodies of water.

Barfoot said he favours having many hands to help with economic development work to promote the area. He said Shearer is “on the right track.”