Brockville should consider entrusting an arm's-length agency with its economic development, a local industrial leader and chamber of commerce observer suggests.
Hewitt Brockville president Gord Cameron, a member of the Brockville and District Chamber of Commerce's advocacy committee, is working on a study of other areas' economic development practices and says that analysis suggests the work of attracting jobs is done better when placed at a remove from city hall.
“Most of them tended to have these things sit as a separate body,” said Cameron, stressing his ideas are not a formal chamber stance.
“They were able to focus better on economic development issues and prioritize what they were able to do with the money.”
The outside economic development corporation is a model adopted in most communities of Brockville's size or larger.
“What they get from that is a little bit of separation from the politics,” added Cameron.
The chamber's advocacy committee observes city council affairs and has historically acted as a budget spending watchdog. Cameron and a small group of mainly fellow advocacy committee members began studying the economic development issue in May and hope to present council with their findings in the next few months.
“I think the politicians have to look to see if they could make a model like this work, because it's probably the way to go,” said Cameron.
Brockville economic development director Dave Paul, who could not be reached for comment, is among the roughly 15 locals Cameron and his colleagues spoke to about economic development options, said Cameron, who foresees a role for Paul in any new structure.
The vast majority of the local people the chamber members spoke to feel there is a better way to do economic development, said Cameron.
Any arm's-length economic development body would have to oversee more than Brockville. He feels a broader regional effort should cover the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville.
A local economic development corporation would get funding from municipalities and be answerable to them, but as a separate organization it might also be eligible for government funding not accessible to municipalities.
Cameron also suggests the pooling of resources could allow members of the new organization to specialize in different economic sectors, as opposed to the current “jack-of-all trades” approach, which he considers less effective.
A broad discussion on new ideas for economic development is something Brockville Mayor David Henderson would like to see on the table in 2013.
The mayor said Cameron has provided examples of communities that have a dual focus on regional and local economic development.
The discussion, said Henderson, will have to be about more than “just rearranging the bureaucracy.”
In recent years, Brockville's economic development department has begun enlisting outside help, in particular the economic development advisory team (EDAT), comprised of prominent members of the community focused on specific economic development goals.
One of EDAT's early successes is the possibility of attracting an Algoma University extension program, or satellite site, to Brockville later this year.
But while welcoming the discussion, the mayor said critics of the city's current economic development efforts need to put things in perspective.
“Put in context, we've fared better than many, but again, we can do better,” said Henderson.
“Is the strategy working, or should it be revamped?”
Members of the Brockville and District Chamber of Commerce's advocacy committee have looked at a variety of other communities in search of different economic development models. They include:
* KEDCO (Kingston Economic Development Corporation);
* Quinte Economic Development Corporation;
* CTT (Canada's Technology Triangle), Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge;
* Niagara Economic Development Department.