The Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce is welcoming the prospect of the County taking on economic development.
The County services delivery review unveiled Nov. 25 recommended the municipality hire an economic development officer. Consultant StrategyCorp, estimated the position would cost $200,000 including $80,000 in salary, $24,000 in employee overhead and $96,000 in service expenses.
Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce board president, Andrea Strano, said she is optimistic about the recommendation, adding it is something needed in the County.
“There’s a really good opportunity here for forward-thinking and forward planning,” Strano said. “We can’t always keep having the same group of 10 people in the community getting together in a bunch of groups and then talking about it, kind of like hamsters on wheels. We need to have more planning and more doing.”
Economic development is presently handled at the lower-tier level, with townships taking different approaches. StrategyCorp held a workshop about economic development with stakeholders including the chamber, Haliburton Village BIA, Algonquin Gateway Business Association and the Highlands East Economic Development Committee. The report found stakeholders wanted increased government support and coordination at the County level.
“It was a really productive process,” chamber executive director, Jennifer Locke, said. “The timing of this conversation is really key, especially with COVID.”
The report said economic development must be distinct from tourism, which already has a County position. Locke said the success of that has motivated a desire for an economic development staff.
“Easier … than having these piecemeal, silo-based activities at the lower levels,” Locke said. “The stakeholders and the business community, they are behind a centralized role.”
She added expanding the scope of the economy beyond its seasonal nature is important.
“Come winter, everybody’s on vacation. That’s the root of that,” Locke said. “There’s kind of a recognition it creates these cycles that are perhaps not ideal for our entire community … Perhaps other opportunities that would allow for a more year-round economy, diversified economy. As we’ve noted through COVID, tourism can be precious in ways that we don’t expect.”
The report said there is a community need for more economic development, citing the County’s below-average income and above-average unemployment rate (13.1 per cent in August 2020, compared to 10.6 per cent for the province). The report notes the position would likely lead to increased revenues but does not estimate that figure.
It added with provincial and federal economic programs likely coming due to the pandemic, this can take advantage of them. It recommends implementing the position starting in 2021.
There is an opportunity cost to lacking economic development, according to the report. Locke said she has received calls from businesses interested in coming to the area, but the lack of centralized resources is a difficult hurdle. She further said economic development also needs to consider environmental and social aspects, also known as a triple-bottom-line approach.
“It cannot just be about dollars and cents. It needs to be about the community, environment, everything because there are risks when we d