Funding announced for Manitoulin Island economic development, Internet services

As part of two funding announcements he made on Manitoulin Island last week, Marc Serre, Member of Parliament for the Nickel Belt, visited Billings Township where he announced a Government of Canada investment of $220,050 to Billings to hire an economic development officer. In photo, left to right, is Mr. Serre, Billings Mayor Austin Hunt, Councillors Nora Bath-Haring, Sharon Alkenbrack, EDO Todd Gordon and Councillor Barb Erskine.

MANITOULIN—Marc Serre, Liberal Member of Parliament for the Nickel Belt, made two funding announcements last week on Manitoulin, one that will benefit the Township Billings in terms of an economic development officer (EDO) to accelerate economic development, tourism and business growth and a second announcement in Wikwemikong with funding that will bring high-speed Internet to approximately 200 households.

A government of Canada investment of $220,050 enabled Billings to hire an economic development officer (EDO) (Todd Gordon) for a three-year period to help identify and implement economic development and business growth initiatives. The initiative is expected to lead to the creation of five new businesses and 10 local jobs, as well as help develop and modernize the community’s waterfront area.

Mr. Serre made the announcement last Friday on behalf of Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, and Minister responsible for FedNor. Some key activities to be under taken by the EDO include: develop and implement the community’s downtown revitalization, investment attraction, tourism, and marketing strategies; establish a small business incubator on the waterfront for seasonal artisan and local businesses; and implement key priorities from the township’s strategic plan.

“I want to thank everyone for coming here today for this super event,” said Sharon Alkenbrack, a Billings councillor and chair of the Billings economic development committee. “One of our townships strengths has been the ability to move forward and grow with little funds, but an abundance of ideas.”

“We have grown due to the committed efforts of our volunteer committees, such as the museum board, library board, the recreation committee, Billings economic development committee; all of us supported by the township,” said Councillor Alkenbrack. “We are often looked at with surprise because this small community has accomplished so much.”

Councillor Alkenbrack said, “today we have a distinguished guest who brings us support in our future ideas. It is an honour to welcome MP Marc Serre, Liberal member of parliament for Nickel Belt.”

“It is an honour to be here today, and it has been my pleasure to have talked to some of you before,” Mr. Serre told the gathering. He quipped, “I know your mayor, Austin Hunt, is trying to break Hazel McCallion’s record for the longest serving politician in Ontario.”

“When you look at a small community, your heart and soul are your volunteers,” said Mr. Serre. “They are vitally important to the fabric and development of the community.” He noted that, “I’m from Northern Ontario, having been born in Chelmsford. I understand that in order for small municipalities to survive and keep up their tax base, resources need to be in place. And by providing these resources it provides for a community to grow and prosper, brings tourists, and provides opportunities and jobs for people who have left, to rejoin the community.”

“I’m proud to have been able to make this (funding) announcement today,” continued Mr. Serre. “You put forward a good proposal and this funding will help on the economic development front. And I understand your priority is going to be the waterfront. This funding will help make a difference and I’m looking forward to further proposals coming forward.”

Mayor Austin Hunt congratulated “all of you for being here today. I am delighted to be here and hear of this funding announcement that will benefit the community. Having an EDO is an important venture for us, it will allow us to do things that we have wanted to move forward on for awhile.”

Mayor Hunt noted the township is currently working and looking at a number of ventures, led in large part by a large group of dedicated volunteers and organizations. “We wouldn’t have all the things we do without them. Our volunteers give us quite a shot in the arm.”

“And we wouldn’t have seen things happen without the federal governments support,” said Mayor Hunt. “With the funding we have been provided for this project, we welcomed Todd Gordon to our staff as our economic development officer.”

“On behalf of residents and businesses in the Township of Billings, I would like to thank FedNor and the government of Canada for investing to help strengthen and diversify the local economy. This priority project will help us take advantage of our inherent strengths to support business development, accelerate growth and improve the economic outlook of our community and the entire Manitoulin area,” continued Mayor Hunt.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Serre had been in Wikwemikong where he announced that close to 200 households in the community will benefit from a government of Canada investment of $104,000 to improve high speed internet service.

The investment in the Wikwemikong Development Commission was announced by Mr. Serre, on behalf of the Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development. The funding is being allocated through Connecting Canadians, a federal program that provides underserved communities with Internet access at speeds of five megabits per second or more.

“Internet access is now an essential part of everyday life,” said Minister Bains, in a release. “Canadians go online for education, health services, entertainment and shopping. Faster Internet connections allow Canadians to not only innovate but also get the skills and training they need to qualify for well-paying jobs. The smallest businesses, no matter where they are located, can participate fully in the global market place and achieve global scale with faster Internet service. We can no longer consider high-speed Internet a luxury.”

Mr. Serre said, “as consumers, businesses and government, we must all continue to work together to meet the growing demand and make broadband more accessible and reliable in underserved communities. The survival of small rural communities will depend on our investments in broadband high-speed Internet services for all residents. Today’s Connecting Canadians investment of $104,000 will increase broadband Internet access for over 200 households on the Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve. I must applaud area service providers for stepping forward and championing these projects in rural and remote communities across the country.”

“First Tel Communication Corporation and Wikwemikong Development Commission (Enaadmaagejk) with the assistance of the Connecting Canadians program will facilitate continued growth and improve the connectivity gaps,” said Anne Marie Sandford, communications business manager for FirstTel Communications Corp.

“Through the Connecting Canadians Program we will be able to help achieve the goal to provide wireless  fibre broadband telecommunications services that will increase the opportunities for wealth, opportunity and quality of life for the community members of Wikwemikong Unceded Territory. Under the Connecting Canadians program. FirstTel Communication Corporation’s target is to reach 200 homes in the first phase of the broadband initiative,” continued Ms. Sandford.

Wikwemikong Chief Ogimaa Duke Peltier, said “Wikwemikong Unceded Territory would like to thank the government of Canada for recognizing the importance of broadband infrastructure by investing in what we deem as essential infrastructure in our modern economy. The funding announced today will help our community and businesses capitalize on new economic opportunities through technology based  solutions.”