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Business retention, affordable housing among County’s top priorities for 2017

Prince Edward County Mayor Robert Quaiff and Bay of Quinte MP Neil Ellis had a bit of spring in their step at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast Thursday morning. Quaiff, noting Ellis often “out-dresses” him, was quick to flash his multi-coloured socks, but Ellis toed the line, producing pink flamingos around his ankles. Inspecting their dapper footwear for a photo-op, Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Emily Cowan confessed she dip not dip her toe into the sock-trend drawer for the meeting.

Business retention, expansion and affordable housing are among key priorities for the County this year.

“There is an undeniable connection between the availability of affordable housing and economic expansion,” said Mayor Robert Quaiff, at a new year “Breakfast Briefing” hosted by the Prince Edward County Chamber of Commerce, at the Waring House, Thursday morning.

He spoke of several County initiatives under way, including moving forward on priorities from last summer’s new Corporate Strategic Plan which seek to create a community with stable employment, affordable housing, stable community health care, a business-friendly environment and maintaining rural and historic character and stability in government.

He expects that later this month a request for proposal will be issued for a housing development on the site of the old arena in Wellington, with an affordable housing component.

“Workers find it difficult to make the County home without an afforable place to live,” he said, adding the County’s development framework committee is also completing its review to make processes more efficient.

Work will also continue this year on the Community Development Department’s Business Retention and Expansion Study of construction and manufacturing in the County (including agri-food producers and wineries).

“The study identified a number of challenges facing our communty and we are working to align our development efforts at policies to address these challenges.”

One of the most pressing, he said, was “the desperate need businesses have for labour, the need for more skills training and the inability of bringing in enough labour during the growing season which is restricting economic growth.”

Plans are also under way for another County job fair, workshops, and programs in co-operation with Loyalist College highlighting ambassador training for hospitality and tourism sectors, customer service, retaining employees, and visitor services.

“It’s all part in parcel of a broader strategy to drive growth,” he said, adding that the County will also soon release its series of downtown revitalization plans for its five commercial centres – in Picton, Wellington, Consecon, Bloomfield and Rossmore. New wayfinding signage and guidelines will also be in place this year.

Quaiff, recently appointed chairman of the Wardens’ Caucus of Eastern Ontario, has also just become one of 43 directors on the Association of Municipalities of Ontario board representing 444 municipalities.

“It’s good news for the County,” he said, “I get to represent us as chair of the entire east region of Ontario but I also get to set all-seeing eyes, policies and things of that nature to the province itself for approval.”

The County’s connection on the federal level is also good, he said, because of a solid working relationship with the Bay of Quinte riding MP Neil Ellis, a special guest at the breakfast.

“Governments, over time, have not invested enough in infrastructure and we’ve hit the perfect storm,” Ellis said, noting historic investment in infrastructure by the federal Liberals.

“Governments, federally and provincially, have let our assets deteriorate… and now it’s catch-up. These investments have to be made,” said Ellis. “Municipalities cannot afford to get their assets up to par and the federal government has to give them the tools… get the money to hit the ground and get the economy to grow.”

Infrastructure money, he said, will in turn help the businesses community whether the funds are through transporation, social infrastructure in housing or better internet.

“Investments from government make life easier, or getting your goods to market easier. It’s about making our communities work together.”

Ellis says three infrastructure announcements are coming to the riding – one of which is for the County, likely in February, when agreements are signed.

The funds are not related to repairs Mayor Quaiff seeks for Highway 49, as federal involvement in that project would be related to gas tax funds, but Ellis said changes to funding are being made to allow more freedom for municipalities to decide how funding money is best spent.

“Councils know where the money is needed,” said Ellis, who was the former Mayor of Belleville. “And they need sustainable funding so they will know what they will get each year. Mayors want as much funding as possible and sustainable funding to leverage funds in bigger projects.”

On the larger stage, with the inauguration of US President Donald J. Trump on Friday, Ellis said the Canadian and American economies are intertwined.

“You can see in the news we just did cabinet and parliamentary shuffles. As we look toward trade agreements we will have to look at the advantages of risk management. It’s business as usual.”

Emily Cowan, the PEC Chamber’s new executive director said she was thrilled to see the large gathering of business members attending the breakfast and has plans for another in the spring with MPP Todd Smith.

“It’s was good to see so many people out this morning and taking the time to chat with one another and networking. We will do this again.”

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