Sunday, April 1, 2012

Midland - Going Forward

Six months ago Midland Council drew up a list of what it wanted to accomplish during its mandate.  The list crystalized Council’s priorities and set the wheels in motion to start working on them.  A lot has already been accomplished but most citizens remain unaware of developments. Trying to stitch together media reports with meeting minutes and changes to by-laws and then interpret what is happening is a daunting task. In this article I will take Council’s top priority, economic development, and tell you how we are progressing. 

Economic development was selected because Midland’s future critically depends upon having good jobs and services for our citizens.  Little analysis is needed to appreciate that Midland has been severely affected by structural changes in the economy.  Our manufacturing sector has been particularly hard hit, an impact which has rippled through local families and businesses.  Every one of us knows someone who has lost a job, had their hours reduced or been forced to move because there was no suitable work in our area.  Good jobs and our quality of life are intimately linked.

Early in 2011 we started economic discussions with our neighbouring municipalities in North Simcoe. From those discussions came an early success – the North Simcoe Economic Action Initiative Strategy.  In terse language it lays out the business sectors we will be focussing on and how we will organize to develop our area’s economy.  Of particular interest to Midland, it identifies the three sectors where I expect to see the bulk of our jobs originating - healthcare, tourism and smart manufacturing.  This area-wide approach has also attracted the attention of the provincial government. A group of provincial ministries want to find out how four municipalities were able to work together and define a common economic strategy.

Acting on the Strategy, Midland recently played host to a unique Healthcare Summit. This brought together local leaders in our healthcare economy to talk about where the jobs will be and how we make our area a healthcare leader.  Further meetings are already being planned.  Our good neighbours in Penetanguishene will be rolling out the Smart-Manufacturing  Summit  shortly.  Area tourism is also in play with marina operators from across our area meeting for the first time in many years to discuss how they can promote local tourism.  And as a highpoint to all this activity, Midland will be hosting the first Prosperity Summit this September 26th, a gathering that will bring together business leaders intent on building our local economy.

In addition to the important area initiatives, Midland also has its own economic interests. Last month, Midland Council voted to change the delivery of our own tourism services.  While the most noticeable effect will be new locations for visitor information centres, more importantly it will define what Midland wants to achieve from its investment in tourism and who will be our partners.  This tourism rethink also leads to challenging questions, such as whether a boutique casino should be part of our tourism landscape.

Midland has other economic irons in the fire. A group of citizens is implementing a program called “Renew Midland”, designed to bring life to shuttered store fronts on our main street. A second group is discussing the broader aspects of economic development in Midland – how should it be organized; what are the roles for the private and public sector? A third discussion is starting about creating a business incubator for the trades in our area. All these initiatives are happening because citizens and business are engaged in building our economy.

It’s still early days and there are many challenges ahead. The shifting global economy is still a concern.  There will likely be further selective down-sizings of local companies.  Midland Council will also have to commit financially to economic development.  The current $5,000 budget allocation is simply inadequate.

Early signs of economic health are there. My own informal survey of the major employers in Midland shows about half intend to be hiring in 2012. The buzz on the main street and in the real estate market is also more positive. I am even starting to get calls from the media in Barrie about events in Midland.

That’s a brief look at where we are headed with economic development.  It’s going to be a long road.  There will be both successes and disappointments.  But with all citizens working together for a better community we will be successful.  Is it time for you to get involved?

Gord McKay

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