Speech to Chamber of Commerce AGM, 2012

CARLETON PLACE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING, MARCH 29, 2012 (Check against delivery) Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen. I am pleased to be able to speak with you once again and give an update on the economic development of our community. When I last spoke to Chamber members during Small Business Week in October, I outlined how your Council had worked to ensure success for our new Economic Development Officer; we had realized that, while we had the budget to cover the salary of the EDO, we did not have our ducks in a row in order to be able to encourage new industrial growth or even, for that matter, expansion of what we already had. And now, just briefly, I will recap what we have done in the past 15 months to ready the community to be successful in a competitive marketplace. We acquired more industrial land in Industrial Park North, created a tentative plan for infrastructure of the area, studied sewer and water capabilities town-wide in order to make decisions for areas of future growth based on these capabilities, annexed properties from Beckwith Township including several hundred acres earmarked for residential growth as well as the 35-acre Roy Brown Park, 4 acres of which we have sold to Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority for their new headquarters building; the shovel should be in the ground in the near future. In addition, we went political with our hospital redevelopment during the provincial election, and I am pleased to say that the Champlain LHIN has allowed our development committee to move forward with its submission of concept drawings and business case; we have been assured by the new CEO of the LHIN that she will support our case moving forward to the province early this summer. As you heard from Matt Ferguson, we hired his company, Doyletech, to create an Industrial Strategy and a Downtown Corridor Enhancement Plan. We also created a Community Development Committee, comprised of business owners, Chamber and BIA staff, residents, town staff, and council members to work to put a new community economic development plan and strategy in place. This is an umbrella committee with a number of subcommittees each charged with making decisions about various aspects of economic development including industrial initiatives, downtown initiatives, tourism, community programming initiatives and so on. I am pleased to report to you that we now do have our ducks in a row and interviewing candidates for our Economic Development officer position will take place next week – so stay tuned for this long anticipated announcement. We truly have moved forward. I often keep in mind old-fashioned maxims that have stood the test of time. Two of my current thoughts are “Complacency kills progress” and the question ‘Are we making progress or marking time?” It’s important to me to keep these mantras in mind if we want our community to benefit economically to the greatest extent possible over the course of the next few years. And just what is ahead in the next few years? … Hospital redevelopment, our number one priority; investing in more employment lands; completing the McNeely Avenue extension to Highway 15, thus opening more lands for residential and commercial growth; expanding and retaining current businesses and attracting new ones; working with the BIA to bring vibrancy to the downtown core; developing our new Official Plan and updating the Development Permit Bylaw … all the while ensuring that the decisions we make today will have a positive impact on the economic, social and environmental future of our town. And now I’d like to change gears for a few moments and look at our economic prospects from a different perspective. A thriving local economy is one of the greatest benefits that a Council can offer to its community – both its citizens and its businesses. And, even though the municipality per se does not create a great number of jobs, the focus of council, its vision, its decisions, its supporting staff, its investments in infrastructure – to name just a few - have a significant impact on the present, and more importantly, the future economic strength of the community. Recently, the Eastern Ontario Wardens Caucus published a report following an examination of the economic condition of all 114 urban and rural governments in Eastern Ontario. They identified three longstanding difficulties that are unique to the region: rising debt levels, limited tax base to pay for services, and a critical, growing need to maintain existing infrastructure and meet future needs. Ladies and gentlemen, I am very pleased to report that Carleton Place is an exception to these difficult fiscal challenges. For every dollar of debt, Carleton Place has $1.30 in reserves; comparing that to other neighbouring communities – without naming names – for every dollar of debt, several communities have only 13 cents in reserves. Our tax base, while still dependent on residential taxes to the tune of 84%, has improved over the past few years with 4% more coming from increased commercial and industrial assessment. Of all neighbouring communities, we have the lowest residential tax rate of $1,391 per $200 000 of assessment compared to Smiths Falls at the highest with $1,751. Our infrastructure is in excellent shape with our sewer and water system in the top 19% of Ontario municipalities for having systems under 25 years of age. How did Carleton Place manage to achieve these successes when so many other communities in the area are looking – and I quote – at a rocky road ahead for local governments in Eastern Ontario? Well, the key word is ‘manage’. Our town, its businesses, its residents, and indeed, its Council are so well served with an exceptionally talented and dedicated management team, our senior staff – they are truly second to none, with the result that Carleton Place is second to none in terms of stability, and its consistently very high standards of financial management; I am not exaggerating- these statements were made as recently as this past Tuesday by our municipal auditor, Howard Allan, and for the past seven years, I have heard similar comments from Mr. Allan, who, by the way, is the auditor for the majority of Eastern Ontario communities. Our community’s geographic location – its proximity to the city at the end of a 4-lane highway, its well-managed finances, its forward-thinking council and staff, and its wonderful, all ages-friendly quality of life make Carleton Place a most desirable place in which to live, work, play, and prosper. It is essential that we capitalize on these assets. As I stated earlier, Complacency Kills Progress. Your Council and Staff have worked hard to position our community to take advantage of and build upon the assets we have; we have worked with our business partners in the Chamber of Commerce and the BIA to leverage the most we can from these assets; and we will continue to work to ensure that progress benefits us all. Carleton Place has an inspiring past, an exciting present, and a promising future. We are fortunate to be members of this great community.