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Wellesley gives tentative approval to regional economic planning idea

A plan to coordinate economic development at the regional level got a warm reception at Wellesley council this week.

If ultimately approved, the proposal put together by the chief administrative officers of the region and seven member municipalities would see the formation of two new organizations, one directing economic development and the other overseeing the development of employment land.

Currently, some of the individual municipalities have their own economic development departments, but there’s no coordinate effort. Wellesley has no such office in place.

A joint venture would strengthen each of the communities, said regional CAO Mike Murray in addressing Wellesley councillors Monday night.

“This kind of evolved out of a growing realization that the overall approach to economic development in Waterloo Region is a little bit fragmented,” he said.

The eight municipalities jointly hired a consultant to judge the state of economic affairs in Waterloo Region. The report by Malone Given Parsons Ltd. called for the creation of a central office for economic development working with existing municipal programs, the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber of Commerce and Canada’s Technology Triangle (CTT) towards common growth.

“Overall their findings were, Waterloo Region continues to do well and the economy continues to grow. … In particular they identified some gaps in regional-scale work that isn’t necessarily being done,” Murray said.

There has never been a joint economic development strategy, partly, he explained, because there has never been an organization responsible for such projects and the region has not played a strong role.

Among the report’s findings is a suggestion that municipalities approve the creation of a Waterloo Region economic corporation accountable to the region and seven local municipalities. Some of the corporation’s responsibilities would include implementing a regional economic strategy, doing regional data collection and analysis, and doing regional-scale marketing.

Another recommendation calls for a change to the provincial Municipal Act to allow the region a say in land development. Currently under the act, only individual municipalities have the jurisdiction to buy, develop and sell land for industrial and commercial purposes. Murray said there have been instances of local municipalities wanting to collaborate with the region on land development.

“The answer has been ‘no we can’t,’ because under the Municipal Act the region does not have that ability.”

A fourth and final recommendation calls for coordinating efforts between the region and the City of Cambridge to develop lands around the Region of Waterloo International Airport for industrial and commercial purposes. Land at the south end of Breslau would have to be serviced from Cambridge.

“I think this is a real good idea. It think it benefits the whole region” said Coun. Jim Olender of the suggestions.

“I’m wondering how, if we do get into this, we share the costs of doing all of this. … I want to know how we are going to be charged and how that’s going to work,” said Mayor Ross Kelterborn.

Murray said those details will be addressed in due course pending a general consensus to go forwards between respective municipalities.

Councillors voted to move in principal to go ahead with the suggestions brought forth by CAOs.

“Based on what I hear on how it’s going to be divided cost-wise and the benefits that I feel that we would get over and above what we can do by ourselves will be my determination. I will likely support it, but I want to know that first,” said Kelterborn.

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