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Regional economic development should move forward, say CAOs

Chief administrative officers David Brenneman of Woolwich and Willis McLaughlin of Wellesley will update councillors on the Waterloo Region Economic Development Strategy’s progress on Aug. 26 and Aug. 19 respectively. [Scott Barber / The Observer]

In an effort to attract industry and promote business expansion and retention, local officials have joined forces to create the Waterloo Region Economic Development Strategy (WREDS).

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.

Chief administrative officers David Brenneman of Woolwich and Willis McLaughlin of Wellesley will update councillors on the Waterloo Region Economic Development Strategy’s progress on Aug. 26 and Aug. 19 respectively. [Scott Barber / The Observer]
Chief administrative officers David Brenneman of Woolwich and Willis McLaughlin of Wellesley will update councillors on the Waterloo Region Economic Development Strategy’s progress on Aug. 26 and Aug. 19 respectively. [Scott Barber / The Observer]
CAOs from the Region of Waterloo, its cities and the townships of Woolwich, Wellesley, Wilmot and North Dumfries are spearheading the initiative, using a study conducted by professional consultants, as well as input from business and community leaders to draft a set of goals for the project.

At the top of the list is a plan to create a new “arm’s length” body called the Waterloo Region Economic Development Corporation, ostensibly to act on behalf of local governments on economic matters.

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

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.

Woolwich CAO David Brenneman will update council on the latest progress with WREDS at the August 26 meeting and recommend its approval in principle.

“We are hopeful and optimistic for the taxpayers that we are going to be even more successful than in the past, with more opportunities for investment with respect to new industries and businesses locating here because we will have this coordinating effort,” Brenneman said.

So far, Woolwich and Wellesley have spent just $5,000 and $2,500 respectively, as part of the $183,000 tab tallied in the WREDS’s preparation to date. There are no estimates for future costs yet, which would presumably jump once a regional economic development program launches, if approved, on Jan. 1, 2016.

But it’ll be worth it, Brenneman maintained, noting the potential benefits from streamlining economic data collection and aligning marketing approaches.

“To date, certainly there has been some success through the existing model, Canada’s Technology Triangle, and Toyota Boshoku is the one example in Woolwich. But, we are optimistic and hopeful that through this new effort, and this different type of corporation, that we’re going to see increasingly more opportunities for business attraction and hence investment. We want to make sure that we have a strong industrial base, because we want a balanced assessment base that helps insure that we are able to have a strong fiscal position that helps out the bottom line in terms of taxpayers.”

Wellesley CAO Willis McLaughlin also supports the WREDS, and will bring the proposal to council on August 19.

“The way I see it is a business would make some inquiries and if there is the right fit, the right spot, the right transportation and the right infrastructure to support it in Wellesley Township, then we may get chosen for that industry,” he said. “Maybe Cambridge has it, maybe Wilmot has the right fit, who knows, but at least it’s sort of a center-point for economic development within the region and from that, outside agencies or businesses or industries would be able to make direct contact with whatever municipality has what they are looking for.”

He called the plan a “huge step forward for the region,” adding that a lot of the work on the plan was done by a very accomplished advisory committee, including “visionaries” like Manulife Canada Chairman Bruce Gordon, Conestoga College dean Mark Derro and Conestogo-Rovers president Ed Roberts.

“They are the who’s who of Waterloo Region,” he said.

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