The Grey Highlands is in the process of establishing an economic development plan to explore ways to encourage business, visitors, and growth in agriculture within the municipality.
The municipality’s economic development advisory group met with council Jan. 7 and discussed possible priority sectors for economic development, as well as the challenges and opportunities afforded by the current state of affairs in Grey Highlands.
“The outcome that we're talking about is an economic development plan, a document that can be considered within the next few months for council to embrace that would provide some sort of general direction for economic development within the municipality,” said the advisory group chair Jim Harrold.
The presentation and discussion with council identified priority sectors for economic development in the coming years, spread across agriculture, health and wellness, tourism and culture, and downtown revitalization initiatives.
Council discussed the importance of building digital infrastructure, fostering sustainable growth, and finding ways to encourage education opportunities and renew growth in agriculture.
Mayor Paul McQueen, using Collingwood’s history as a manufacturing hub as an example, highlighted the importance of selecting the municipality’s development priorities carefully.
“The Town of Collingwood, in the late 60s, they were sort of a depressed area and they offered incentives to bring a lot of manufacturing to Collingwood,” he said. “[They eventually] had to change because of necessity – manufacturing was leaving the [town] and they had to reinvent themselves.”
“There's a lot I think we can learn from other regions.”
Harrold said, given finite resources, it is important for the municipality to establish key areas for development.
“It's a matter of setting priorities, and that doesn't mean other areas aren't important – it just means that for the next few years, these are our big priorities,” he said.
He presented a nuanced view of development, which accounts for quality of life and environmental concerns.
“Development means better quality of life, and it means respect for ecological limits,” he said. “It can be new, it can be from within, and it can be from transformation of current uses.”
Harrold encouraged the municipality to be bold in setting its priorities, particularly in terms of environmentally friendly development.
“There's a lot of green [initiatives] that the municipality can take quantum steps ahead of everyone else and begin to be recognized that way,” he said. “I think there's a vast opportunity for the municipality to use its power of zoning, and its power of the Official Plan to stand out, to be different, to be ahead of the game, and that will attract certain support and development.”
Director of economic and community development Michele Harris pointed out the idea of development has changed in recent decades, and supported the idea of attracting and retaining niche businesses in the area.
“Twenty years ago it was about chasing the big smokestacks, the big corporations, the big distribution centres. That’s not the way of the world anymore,” she said.” I don't think that fits with the fabric of Grey Highlands, but I think there's a real opportunity to … seek out and attract new, niche micro-businesses.”
“Just [recently] I spoke to a business that ties in a lot of these things, a high-end digitization firm that does most of their work across North America in the aerospace industry, and they operate out of Grey Highlands in a home-based business.”
With council’s feedback, the advisory group is planning to bring its priorities to the public for feedback and commentary.
The group plans to schedule open zoom meetings for public input, as well as host presentations from community groups through its meetings, after which it will bring its final recommendations back to council.
The group plans to make its final recommendations to council in spring 2022.