In one of his first moves as the County’s director of economic development and tourism, Scott Ovell asked council Jan. 12 to approve a request for proposals for an economic development strategy.
In a report to the committee of the whole, Ovell said he’s been hired to develop a more diverse and resilient economy, while still recognizing the importance tourism plays in the Highland’s continued growth.
He said while there is an overarching tourism plan, the Destination Management Plan, that has stalled during COVID-19, there isn’t a plan for the broader economy.
“An economic development strategy is essentially a road map for economic transformation, growth, and yields longterm prosperity for a community,” he said in a report. “It includes action steps that will require the participation of the business community, institutions and citizens.
“While the County has had tremendous success developing and marketing tourism, the challenging realities of today’s economy call for new directions, ideas and approaches to enhance economic growth, attract investment and ensure that opportunity continues to be a significant part of the County’s quality of life.”
Ovell said in an interview it’s about creating a vision and how to get there with a five-year departmental budget and business plan.
With two months under his belt, Ovell said “it’s been a bit of a whirlwind.” In addition to finding his feet, he’s helped the County hire its new tourism manager, Tracie Bertrand, who started Jan. 3.
Bertrand is coming from Peterborough and the Kawarthas Economic Development where she was director of tourism. Ovell said she is familiar with the area and provincial and federal tourism organizations. He said she’s also knowledgeable about some of the County’s larger tourism stakeholders. [The Highlander will profile Bertrand at a later date].
Having her onboard means Ovell can now concentrate more on the wider economic development side of his job. However, he said it will inevitably overlap with tourism.
“Tourism’s probably one of the two or three driving economic forces in the community so, it’s about developing and cultivating a more diverse and resilient economy, and trying to reduce the peaks and valleys,” he said.
“On the economic development side, it’s more about working with the other industries in the County and helping them grow and communicating with them and finding out the issues from them and how the County can better support them to overcome those obstacles and develop programs and initiatives that are going to help them achieve their objectives.”
He said another initiative they’re in the process of is developing a business survey that they plan to release annually to start collecting data on the economy and establish some baseline information. He said that will help them identify trends, “to better feel for what the pressure points are and then identify whether it’s a specific program initiative that we need to bring to County council for consideration.”
He added they will go beyond an online survey and will call businesses to hear their stories. It’s something that is already beginning.
“I’ve been pleasantly surprised. They’re saying ‘you need to talk to this business or that business. They’re doing great things’. It’s about making people more aware of what’s going on in the County and what’s more unique and highlighting those businesses and showing the rest of Ontario, and in a perfect world, Canada and the world, that here’s what you can do in Haliburton County. Here are the businesses that have been successful. And you don’t always have to look to Southern Ontario or other parts of the province if you’re looking to grow or expand.”
Ovell said along the way they will look at the area’s challenges, everything from internet problems to workforce housing. “And work collaboratively with council, townships and stakeholders to try and implement some solutions to those problems.”