Municipalities, First Nations provide positive response to EDO initiative

GORE BAY—There has been a positive response so far from municipalities and First Nations on Western Manitoulin Island toward the concept of hiring of an economic development officer for the entire area.

“As you all know, we’re proposing to work together and apply for funding for an economic development officer for Western Manitoulin,” stated Mike Addison, general manager of LAMBAC, at a meeting last week with representatives from all municipalities and First Nations on Western Manitoulin. “We are including the area from Billings Township to Meldrum Bay.”

“At our last meeting everyone agreed with going ahead with this idea and the representatives from FedNor and the Ministry of Northern Development were on hand to provide information on the funding that is available for this,” said Mr. Addison. “The (government) reps are really excited we are looking at this together on a regional basis.” He pointed out funding for an EDO could be available for a three year term.

“We are losing our post offices, have lost some of our businesses, agencies like Service Ontario are cutting down hours and we have lost banks and a credit union,” said Mr. Addison. “School enrolments are dropping because we don’t have young families moving into the area because there isn’t much work available for them. We might also be losing a service organization and have lost restaurants, resorts, parks and more.”

“We need job opportunities in place for our young people and young families,” said Mr. Addison. “The backbone of  communities are its volunteers. With  regional economic development benefits we would all share in this. The more businesses that we have and economic development in our communities the better it is for all of us.”

Mr. Addison pointed out Western Manitoulin communities are at different stages for development projects and strategies. Some have strategic plans in place, while others don’t. Billings is hiring an EDO but that doesn’t mean it won’t benefit them or us if they are part of this project.”

Mr. Addison outlined the pros of hiring an EDO for the regional area include coordinated activities for the region, enhanced services, better access to funds and grants, as both governments are in support of regional development projects—and there will be improved infrastructure.

“Even for those communities that don’t have an EDO or a strategic plan, they will have or will want to put in place shovel-ready projects that an EDO can help develop,” continued Mr. Addison.

If everyone is in support of the EDO project, the proposal is for a board be set up with representatives from each community and First Nation, each with one vote. “The board would have the responsibility for the EDO position and to serve all of Western Manitoulin.”

“We can get substantial dollars, up to 90 percent of the costs of hiring an EDO,” Mr. Addison told the meeting. This would mean an approximate figure of $10,000 that municipalities and First Nations would share to hire an EDO and MNDM might be able to help unorganized municipalities and First Nations.

“So the first thing we would like to know is who will be the representative of each municipality?” asked Mr. Addison. “We would like you to put together a list of shovel-ready projects, and other projects you have in mind for development. And we need to establish an memorandum of understanding for every community and First Nation to sign.”

“We’re hoping to get an indication tonight to go forward and start on the application for funding as soon as possible,” said Mr. Addison.

“We did our own strategic plan and know how important economic development is. What is good for Gore Bay or any community is good for everyone on Western Manitoulin,” said Gore Bay Mayor Ron Lane. “The key is getting people to Western Manitoulin. We need to find ways to get more people to Western Manitoulin.”

Mayor Lane noted he would be prepared to be the member of the board for Gore Bay. “Our council feels the sooner the better in getting this EDO in place for Western Manitoulin.”

Richard Bradley, representing Meldrum Bay, said it would probably be a representative of the Dawson Citizens Improvement Association that would be the board representative. “We are moving ahead with some economic development in our community. The store will be opening again this spring, the gift shop and coffee shop will be open and we are looking for more development at the marina. One of our big needs is marketing and promotion, and we are interested in participating in this project.”

“I have the support of my council to proceed,” stated Lee Hayden. “We are ready to move forward and for getting projects in line that could be shovel ready. We are on board for this process.”

“More or less what Lee said is the same for our (Burpee-Mills) council,” said Reeve Ken Noland. “Our council is in support of this proposal. If you need a motion from council in favour of this project we can provide this, and I don’t think we are talking large dollars to support this project. It wouldn’t be a huge amount of money for any area to be part of this.”

“We’re on board with the concept and what this could do for Western Manitoulin,” said Billings Mayor Austin Hunt.

It was further noted that while the EDO project would be for three years, there may be government projects that would continue the program after that time.

It was suggested that a deadline should be set for all municipalities and First Nations to indicate if they want to participate in the EDO project. After some discussion a deadline was set for March 15.

“So we would need to know who the contacts from each area will be for the board at that time,” said Mr. Addison.

“We should all give some thought to the funding model we will use and if we can get government funding or private players to help out.”

“We’re excited about this project as we feel it provides a real opportunity for all of Western Manitoulin,” stated Mr. Addison.

Carolyn Dearing, of LAMBAC said by March 15 LAMBAC will have the funding application complete, then everyone will have the opportunity to review it.

“I’m really happy to see additional people here tonight from municipalities and First Nations,” said Mr. Hayden. “This project is for all of Western Manitoulin and it is great to see all of you here tonight.”

Our plan is that once we have the motions to go ahead from the municipalities and First Nations we will call a meeting shortly after and have your representatives review the funding application,” said Mr. Addison. “Then we will send the funding application for an EDO in and lobby hard for this.”

“We’re looking forward to try and make things happen for all of Western Manitoulin,” added Mr. Addison.