Thursday, May 3, 2012

Economic Development and Midland

Presentation to Midland Rotary Club – May 2, 2012

Ladies and Gentlemen

It’s an honor to be with you today. I am here to tell you about the biggest project perhaps in the history of Midland. Let me start by setting the stage.

My wife and I came to Midland 11 years ago – we knew immediately it was a special place.
-          A quiet little Town nestled into Georgian Bay – tree lined streets, sunshine
-          We walked down King St. and were welcomed at Gianettos and introduced to their addictive cottage cheese dip
A beautiful place – so just leave it the way it is.

But the more we became part of Midland the more that we realized that this idyllic community was under threat from events both within and without

The realization started with small things – Midland wasn’t growing

-          In 1996  our population was 16,347 and in 2011 16,572225 people in 15 years – flat growth
-          So we are a slow growth community – no real problem
-          But the reality of no growth in population is slower development, slow real estate market, a lower profile with the province (perhaps a good thing)

Those of us who are here are getting older and the young people are quickly leaving

-          In 2001 19% of us were 65+ versus Ontario at 13%
-          By 2006 our seniors ranks had grown to 19.8%

-          Fewer younger people - in 2001 just 18.3% were under 19 versus Ontario at 19.6%
-          By 2006 our share of young people had dropped to 15.5%

-          Now a greying population is fine but the economic realities are fewer people working, lower consumer spending, a greater demand for municipal services – and fewer children in the street
-          Not so bad as long as we still have jobs ……………..

The global economy is changing Midland and has been doing so for years

-          A problem with being a small community is that you don’t have access to good local statistics. We can see the impact of the global recession anecdotally – Bruin closed, Schott Gemtron layoffs, and lately Unimin closed.

-          One of the few sources of jobs numbers in our area is the Business Times. They publish an annual survey of our large employers in Midland and Penetanguishene, companies with 100 plus employees. Over the last three years, 2008 -2011.
o   Midland and Penetanguishene’s  largest employers have lost over 300 positions
o   The manufacturing sector alone has been shedding 150 jobs a year
o   But the stats also show a silver lining – the healthcare sector has added some 130 jobs over this same period

And that is what I want to talk to you about.


The quality of life is what has attracted us to Midland and what keeps us here. 
We don’t want that to change.  But unless we do change, we will not be able to preserve that quality of life. And that brings us to the topic of economic development.

When I became mayor there was virtually no focus economic development. No budget – no staffing – limited public awareness.  I want to recognize the exemplary efforts of Debra Muenz at the NSCFDC. Good analysis – but limited impact.  We were not yet ready. So we started the discussion.

And sometimes fate steps in to help. The last election brought in four mayors in North Simcoe who had different degrees of interest in economic development. While rural Tay, is different from cottage Tiny, is different from urban Penetanguishene, all faced economic challenges. So we began talking about our differences and common ground. We borrowed ideas from other prior studies. And by the fall of 2011 we had crafted an economic strategy document to guide our efforts.

            (Review the North Simcoe Economic Action Initiative Strategy)

With the mayors aboard, each of our Councils had to buy in. Again a lot of internal debate. Against all odds by early 2012 all Councils had agreed to support the Strategy.  Midland Council went one further and identified economic development as its top priority.

So we were in good shape.  Right?  The commitment was still not there – each Council voted only $5,000 to the cause.  Our total investment for the future of North Simcoe was just $20,000. This sum, though small, will allow some critical initial work to be done in 2012:

-          Create an economic development web-site
-          Develop an area opportunities listing
-          Host a Prosperity Summit, September 26.


Getting the politicians philosophically on side is a good thing but without the involvement and leadership of the private sector it is a hollow venture. It was time to reach out and gain that support.

On February 1st Midland started the Summit Series.  The Summits are a special series of meetings with selected invitees focusing on the key sectors identified in the Strategy.  Their purpose is to guide the initial action plans for each economic sector.

Midland started with the first sector, Healthcare.  We brought in the key stakeholders in our local healthcare economy – GBGH, Waypoint, Jarlette, Georgian College and Lakehead University.  We asked them 3 questions:

-          In 20 years what will our local healthcare economy look like – where are the jobs?
-          What have we got to fix or change to get there?
-          What are our first steps?

And they told us.

They identified how the entire sector was changing – the service models, the funding formulas, where the jobs are likely to be and the types of resources that are needed to be successful.   While the meeting helped refine the strategy, it did much more - it set in motion a change of attitude that will help us take on this transformation and brought together those who could make it happen. 

It takes Midland from simply reacting to external events to a position where we can start managing our economic future.   And in these tough economic times managing is essential.

Let me give you an example.  In our healthcare discussions with the LHIN, they told us that provincial funding will be moving away from institutions and towards distributed health services. So that’s where you need to look for jobs.  One person who has found those jobs was an entrepreneur in town named Ron Shulman. He became aware of a rule change in dental care regulations that permitted dental support services to be provided away from the dentist’s office.  The result – he built a new business around this idea. The business provides services at a price point well below the established market. The business started in Midland, has branched to Wasaga Beach and he is now looking for capital for further expansion. Our future jobs are out there – we just need some help in seeing them.

Over in Penetanguishene, Gerry Marshall has just completed the second Summit on Smart Manufacture.  Scott Warnock is setting up the Tourism Summit for early 2013 and Ray Millar has started work on his Agri-science summit. We are all looking to redefine our local economy.


So far I have talked about four municipalities working on four main sectors in our economic strategy, plus getting the private sector engaged.   You can see how complex this can become. So how do you organize all of this successfully?

Again Midland is taking the lead. 

We began by recognizing that we will be successful when the public and private sector interests are focussed on and aligned in building the North Simcoe economy. 

We currently have no vehicle that will allow that to happen – so we have to build one.

The process will start on May 29th as senior business leaders from North Simcoe meet to discuss an economic development organization. An organization led by the private sector and closely supported by the municipalities.

What are we trying to accomplish?

-          Bring the public and private sector into an effective cooperative arrangement
-          Provide a long-term and sustainable platform for our economy
-          Reduce the unintended effects of the political process  (For example: election upsets every four years)

What will this look like – you will have to invite me back in six months.


I have talked a lot about the economic foundation blocks. But as my constituents keep asking - what are you doing for me today?
The following are just some of the economic initiatives currently underway in Midland.

-          Simplifying the municipal planning regulations – (Example – a change to development financing by allowing conditional Letters of Credit)

-          Renew Midland, bringing life to our downtown

-          Georgian College trades incubator

-          Public consultation process for the Unimin site

-          Public consultation on gaming opportunities

-          Selecting a signature event for Midland

-          Bringing marina operators together for sector discussions

-          A major Town tourism initiative, including the PASSPORT program

All of this is not done for the sake of growth – but to build a solution that will sustain our quality of life.  The people of Midland require this. And we are responding.


I have spoken about community building through economic development. If any organization epitomizes community building it has to be the Midland Rotary.  Your organization has made such a positive difference:

-          The Rotary Trail
-          Party on the Dock
-          The rotary stage and summer concert series
-          Our new MCC. 

Our economic development project is perhaps the largest community building exercise that we have ever undertaken. It will impact our jobs, our healthcare, our taxes, our children – our quality of life.  I look forward to working with Rotary as we continue to build this beautiful place we call Midland.

1 comment:

Elizabeth O'Connor said...

Gord, thanks for the leadership in this. It's great to see a fresh approach instead of collective handwringing at the state of the economy.
Elizabeth o'Connor