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Woolwich mapping out its economic future

Want to have a hand in shaping Woolwich’s economic future? The township is looking for your input: now’s the time to have your say.

Woolwich is developing a local economic development strategy. The first step involves canvassing the opinions of a broad cross-section of the population. The strategic planning team of Hardy
Stevenson and Associates, hired by the township using a federal grant, is seeking input through focus groups, an on-line survey, and two public information meetings.

The focus groups will meet at various times over the next two weeks.

Officials hope the resulting strategy and action items will allow the community to shape and manage growth, to ensure it fits with the aspirations of Woolwich’s residents and businesses. There will be many priorities identified in the final plan, including building a diverse local community, business attraction, retention and expansion with a focus on small and medium-size businesses, tourism, agriculture, manufacturing and arts and culture, among others, explained Laurel Davies Snyder, the township’s economic development and tourism officer.

POLICY IN THE MAKING For the focus groups and stakeholder committee to work effectively, Woolwich needs participants from a wide variety of industries. Among those participating are Laurel Davies Snyder, new café owner Robin Martin, township manager of planning John Scarfone, RBC’s Elmira branch manager Darcy Krahn and Don Kirck of Home Hardware.

“Hearing from the community is a really important part of developing a plan and developing appropriate action items,” she noted. “You’re not going to apply the same rules here that you apply in Kitchener or Stratford or London or Toronto because we are different people, with a different economy, different businesses, and different culture. In addition to looking at the statistics, we want to talk to people who are actually involved in business in Woolwich Township.”

Davies Snyder sees this community-wide initiative as a keystone project, an opportunity to achieve a number of goals. These include understanding current strengths, identifying emerging strengths, and bringing businesses and residents together to talk about what successful economic development looks like now and in the future.

“The focus groups are going to provide the township with a very accurate and real picture of the challenges they deal with,” she said. “They can tell us what they see as Woolwich’s strengths, what they see as opportunities, and things like that. They will give us information on the types of initiatives and projects that would help strengthen their business and be more successful.”

A stakeholder committee consisting of representatives from all economic sectors in the township has been formed and will meet during the course of the project to provide input and direction. The group is made up of a number of volunteers from the community and various industries.

“I am so thrilled with the group of people who have volunteered to be a part of it. The diversity gives me a lot of hope that what we develop will really suit Woolwich because so many people are involved.”

The exciting aspect of this project, said Davies Snyder, is the opportunity for community residents to talk to township staff in a way they haven’t before, allowing staff to gain a better understanding of the wants and needs of residents in real time.

“The people in the groups will be seeing things that we don’t, because they are in the business,” she explained. “They are the eyes and ears on the ground. They are the people that are involved in the economy and what we are trying to do is develop a structure that will support them.”

Although response has been good, Davies Snyder admits the township could still use more participants to ensure they get the best results.

“We need people to come out to the focus groups for them to work,” she said. “We are still looking for volunteers from the agricultural industry and rural businesses – anyone involved in farming or anything supporting an agricultural business – as well as people with manufacturing and institutional backgrounds; government workers, health care workers, people in education, utilities, that kind of thing.”

The first public meeting will be held on Dec. 8 at 7 p.m., in the community centre room at the Woolwich Memorial Centre in Elmira. Both public meetings will give attendees a chance to hear about the project, the results to date, talk one-on-one with the project team, and participate in a facilitated discussion. The focus group meetings begin as soon as next week. You can register by calling the township office or Davies Snyder directly.

“The whole point is to hear from people about what they need and where we should be dedicating energy and resources,” she explained. “We want to combine people’s experiences and stories of Woolwich into a plan that can move us all together in the same direction.”

Details about the on-line survey, the public meetings, and the focus groups will be posted on the township’s website (www.woolwich.ca) in the Economic Development section or questions can be directed to Laurel Davies Snyder, 519-669-6020 or by email: ldaviessnyder@woolwich.ca.

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