GORDON—A lively discussion on growth and sustainability broke out at the Municipality of Gordon/Barrie Island’s visioning session on January 11.
Seventeen interested residents and staff attended the meeting to hear more about the importance of strategic planning and having a vision statement that will guide the municipality towards well-planned decisions and allocation of resources.
CAO and clerk-treasurer Carrie Lewis began the evening by thanking everyone for their participation and introducing economic development officer Laura Barfoot, who began by describing what strategic planning is and how it can apply locally.
“A strategic plan focuses all aspects of an organization and coordinates its development,” she explained. “It is a way to focus on the needs of the community—not only for today, but for future generations.”
Ms. Barfoot then outlined why a vision statement is important, saying, “it is a statement that considers an organization’s current situation and states where they want to end up—an aspiration of what they could be.” She said a vision statement should be memorable, concise, and motivating.
In groups of two or three, the attendees set to answering the two questions set before them: what does our municipality value and where could we be in five or ten years? Groups were able to reference the results of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats analysis undertaken in two public meetings in 2011. The final, and perhaps most difficult task followed: to create a vision statement based on these responses with references to vision statements from other island municipalities and organizations. Tables brainstormed, pondered, and wrote for nearly 30 minutes as the ideas flowed.
Citizens, both new and lifelong, shared their results, outlining the aspects they value about the community and suggesting potential areas of growth. Several common threads emerged, including accolades for the public beaches and parks, the low tax rate, the prevalence of the natural environment and rural lifestyle, the fire department and police station, and the agricultural history. However, the need to attract assessment investment was a concern for nearly everyone. It was clear that residents were not interested in “smoke stack industries,” but perhaps senior and subsidized housing could be avenues worth exploring.
Once these results had been verbalized, Randy Hohenadel of Lighthouse Road asked Barrie Island resident John Gordon to expound on his table’s discussion concerning the implications of growth. Mr. Gordon then shared why he chose to move to Manitoulin, and more specifically Gordon/Barrie Island. He said it offers the rural lifestyle that many, specifically baby boomers, are seeking.
“Why think only in terms of five years, or 10 years,” Mr. Gordon asked. “Why not think in 50 years?” Baby boomers are looking to retire to what we have right now, he noted, and we don’t want Manitoulin to be another version of the Muskokas. We should be working towards not necessarily growth, but sustainability, he stated.
Robby Colwell, Gordon/Barrie Island resident and manager of the Gore Bay-Manitoulin Airport, added that the time is right for development at the airport, pointing out that the airport footprint only consumes 300 of 1,300 acres, leaving 1,000 acres that are already zoned commercial.
Access to fresh water is not a problem, noted Mr. Colwell, who said there is great potential for development, whether in the area of aircraft restoration or more generally as a business core. He added that the comparatively-sized Parry Sound Airport has done a great job expanding its business potential, and that the Gore Bay-Manitoulin Airport could be just as successful.
Discussion turned to Gordon/Barrie Island’s potential to provide employment opportunities. It was pointed out that in order to build on sustainable growth, diversification of the workforce would be important. Tourism is on the decline across Canada, and demographics are changing with birth rates remaining low. Questions such as ‘what will attract youth to return after post-secondary studies,’ ‘how can we encourage the next generation to invest in Manitoulin’ and ‘what about young families,’ were posed.
“Development will naturally occur,” stated Jeff Hietkamp, adding that the municipality needs to ensure that it happens in a structured way.
Not all of the questions were answered last Wednesday, but it is clear that the Municipality of Gordon/Barrie Island’s vision esteems a rural lifestyle coupled with sustainable development.