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County economic development rosy with challenges

Neil Carbone

Councillors heard a rosy mid-year report – with challenges – from Prince Edward County’s Community and Economic Development Commission during a special meeting Tuesday afternoon, held to clear the balance of the July 27 Committee of the Whole agenda.

“We’re looking at a degree of prosperity in Prince Edward County in 2017,” said Neil Carbone Director of Community Development. “We’re certainly seeing an uptick in the economy and a number of areas. Tourism is at the foundation of a lot of that, but with our data collection and what we’re seeing in other sectors, it doesn’t end with tourism.”

Tourism, he said, is no longer only generating economic activity that produces seasonal, or low-paying jobs.

“Our feedback from developers and contractors, from manufacturing and other sectors is showing that we’re seeing growth across the board in a lot of different areas,” Carbone told councillors. “It means we are also seeing a lot of challenges that are created by that growth – first and foremost, is workforce. Our current workforce can’t keep up with the demand and that issue is exacerbated by the lack of housing supply.”

On the scale of problems, however, he said it is a good one because it means other good things are happening.

“When we speak to business leaders, the development community, or when we speak to small business or the tourism sector, there’s definitely a sense of urgency with dealing with the problems that we are having with these challenges because there is no sign of these challenges slowing down. It’s not something that we can wait to address.”

The mid-year report starts the establishment of the collection of baselines data and implementation of strategies that have been building over the years to set targets for 2018 and beyond.

“Staff will be coming forward in the coming months with reports and recommendations on how to address those issues.”

Along with housing and jobs, he explained other community and economic development priorities for the year, including visitor services initiatives due to the transition from the chamber of commerce to the County and youth engagement. Also on the table are agricultural partnerships, heritage preservation and continued outreach and communiction for public awareness of economic activity.

“The rubber has now hit the road” he said, for many projects first initiated by the commission as far back as 2013 – including a strategic plan, new County branding, investment attraction initiative, downtown revitalization, Picton Harbour Vision, Corporate Strategic Plan, development framework, visitor services, wayfinding signage and accommodation study.

“Many things have been implemented, and some are about to be implemented. Visitor services, he said, was one of the most ambitious.

“A lot of these were pilot projects so there has been some trial and error but they are comprehensive and are addressing a lot of gaps.”

He said wayfinding signage guidelines should be coming before council before the end of the year and the new tourism website launched last month. Ambassador training in conjunction with Loyalist College saw 22 participants and there are eight visitor centres have been established with libraries, museums and private businesses.

Unique visitor tracking at each centre and portable to special events allows data collection through wi-fi to see where visitors are coming from and to correlate whether they have also visited the website or social media accounts.

He also noted the success of County’s two tourism guides and social media and almost $1 million in advertising value through various media.

Through various social media, including the Build a New Life website, there have been leads on 99 new business inquiries the commission valued at more than $68 million in potential investment.

“There’s always a bit of gestation between inquiry and when the rubber hits the road, but so far (since 2016) we’ve had six new, or relocated businesses that came through lead generation, 20 businesses were acquired or are in the process of expanding and five in the process of opening soon.”

He said there has also been a re-emphasis on youth by the commission, council and other stakeholders within the community like the ROC (Recreation Outreach Centre in Picton) and others who have committed to youth programs, entrepreneurships and other initiatives.
There are 91 youth involved with the ROC entrepreneur programs and 809 participation opportunities with businesses.

Over the hour-long presentation, he also shared statistics from the commission’s annual job fair, workshops and small business centre programs; spoke about grants secured for 2017 (water treatment plant upgrades, celebrate Canada, public transit, museum, park and millennium trail upgrades) valued at $1.9 million.

Visit the county website at pecounty.on.ca for more from the 37-page document.

 

 

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