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Woolwich pledges $250,000 to regional economic development group

Having already dumped $160,000 into a regional economic development scheme, Woolwich is now in for another $250,000, councillors having this week signed on for another five years with little discussion.

The Waterloo Economic Development Corporation is a joint venture between the Region of Waterloo and its seven-member municipalities: the cities of Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge, and the townships of Woolwich, Wellesley, Wilmot and North Dumfries.

Launched in 2015 as the Waterloo Region Economic Development Corporation – later dropping the “region” from its moniker – it’s a joint strategy to recruit businesses to set up shop in the region, and to promote expansion of existing companies. It has an annual operation budget of $2 million.

Woolwich chief administrative officer David Brenneman said membership in the organization has been a boon for the township, pointing to WEDC’s work last year with an expansion at Conestoga Meat Packers in Breslau and relocation of a business to St. Jacobs. He recommended council renew membership for five years at an annual cost of $50,000.

Last year, WEDC carried out 11 deals valued at $316 million.

“Approximately 35 per cent of the investment deals in 2017 were in the townships. In particular, with the help of WEDC, Conestoga Meats in the Township of Woolwich received $5.3 million in funding from the Ontario government to support its expansion including creating 170 new jobs,” said Brenneman in a report to council. “As well, WEDC worked in collaboration with the township to re-locate Huron Digital Pathology to St. Jacobs, and that move included 30 existing jobs along with plans for expansion. This particular development also resulted in four additional light manufacturing units being constructed, and two of those units have been leased.”

Coun. Patrick Merlihan was the sole dissenting voice, pointing to the lack of details surrounding financial benefits to the township. He also argued against tying the hands of the next council by signing on for five more years, suggesting the decision should be made following this fall’s election.

“I’m uncomfortable with making a decision for the entire next term of council.”

Earlier, he pressed WEDC president Tony Lamantia for the difference between economic development and corporate welfare.

Lamantia noted that only two of last year’s 11 deals closed by WEDC involved government money. He said sometimes grants or loans are needed to seal the deal, especially when competing with U.S. centres. Even before the corporate tax cuts in the U.S., Canadian cities sometimes had a hard time dealing with the large handouts – from tax holidays to bond issuances – available to jurisdictions to the south. Provincial and/or federal money can sometimes level the playing field, he said.

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