The Municipality of East Ferris is putting together an economic development plan and have launched a survey for business owners and residents to help guide the vision.
It’s a five-year plan which will help guide the community as they consider business-friendly decisions and means of attracting new businesses to the area. The municipality has brought on Karen Jones Consulting to help put together the document.
Jones was invited to a special meeting of council on March 8th to help get the ball rolling on the plan. She mentioned the survey launched that day, and soon after it went live, 15 people had already responded. Speaking to council, Jones emphasized the need to keep the plan “actionable and realistic.”
“Sometimes less is more,” she said, “and we don’t want you to spread yourselves too thin.” The goal of the plan must be “to move forward the needs of the business community,” she urged.
The five-year plan “will act as road map to help guide economic development initiatives that foster business and economic growth within the community,” she clarified.
After her introduction, council discussed the merits and challenges of doing business within the community. Deputy Mayor Steven Trahan emphasized the tax is lower for commercial operations within the municipality. “We don’t have a commercial based tax,” he said, “so that’s an advantage.”
Mayor Pauline Rochefort agreed. “That’s our opportunity to be competitive” and keep costs down for businesses. Moreover, lower taxes can “offset other costs” that come with living in a rural setting, such as transportation.
“We’re in a really great location,” Trahan said, close to North Bay, close to major highways, and this geography can be “an advantage for business,” he said. Convenient for transport, and “easier for couriers to come into our municipality.”
“We’re a vibrant community,” councillor Rick Champagne said, “with a lot of opportunities for growth.”
To encourage this growth, council identified a few issues that could be improved. Internet speed remains a problem, and council anticipates the day when all businesses have access to reliable high-speed internet. Bell is working on it, but as of now a clear plan has not been delivered to the municipality.
“Businesses are still struggling to connect and have speed,” Trahan said, and emphasized that securing faster internet remained a priority.
Council also mentioned that getting natural gas into the area would be a boon, for residents and businesses alike.
Another problem council identified is the lack of rental and lease space. There is “no lease space” available currently, the chief administrative officer Jason Trottier said, and “that’s a challenge.” He mentioned that interested businesses have called his office asking about leasing space in the community but have had no luck. Most businesses “don’t want the upfront costs” of building, so leasing is an ideal option. More space is needed, Trottier emphasized.
The municipality is also light on land, so earmarking land for development projects—such as industrial parks—is difficult. “The municipality has very little land that we own, and very little good land,” explained Greg Kirton, the municipality’s director of community services. “We don’t have pieces of land that we can dedicate towards those projects.”
Despite that, there are still plans to “get our industrial park up and running,” Trahan explained, noting it would be a great way to foster growth. They have land for that, near the border of Callander, but accessing the land is difficult as they need to “access the land through Callander,” from Callander Bay Drive. They plan to work with Callander to get that road on track.
“Right now, we’re known as a bedroom community,” councillor Champagne said, “so it would be nice to open that up,” and attracting new business would help that. Council also noted the community is ageing, and more people are settling into the community from Southern Ontario to retire.
Councillor Terry Kelly also sees this as an opportunity. “We have a lot of knowledge sitting idle” he said, speaking of retired businesspeople, who’s knowledge and insight could be invaluable to the community. He suggested getting them more involved somehow as mentors to current business owners, or to sit on a sub-committee to help steer the municipality on business decisions.
Indeed, the plans, are preliminary, but the journey to a new economic development plan has begun. The plan will “showcase East Ferris as a complete community,” Mayor Rochefort said, emphasizing how “our business community is our strategic partner, and we will work together to tackle some of these issues.”
Residents and business owners can find the survey on the municipal website. Anyone can participate in the survey, and the municipality would appreciate hearing from as many people as possible, even if you do not live or work in the area.