Historically, Dryden has taken a ‘keep it small and rich’ attitude, we have that big mill assessment paying the bills, let’s not be serious about growth and dilute that tax advantage over a larger community, after all I do not want more people coming here, fishing in my fishing spot, more traffic, and so on. Se we had an Economic Development Officer for some years, but we did not provide him with any support or budget or tools that might actually give him a chance to succeed, after all, ‘keep it small and rich’ was where it was at.
Then 2003 happened, and suddenly we were not so rich, lots of jobs gone, and that big mill assessment began to shrink. The city engaged an expert on such matters to tell us how we can have an economic development program that actually works.
The consultant said that investors generally hire ‘site locators’ to find the right place to put new investments. Say Wendy’s decides they will put 10 new stores in Canada, they give the site locator their criteria as to places they would want to be, and he sends out an inquiry to places that meet the criteria. Dryden would likely be in competition with say 500 other communities across Canada. The site locator will have to narrow that down very quickly to say a few dozen communities which he will take a closer look at, neither he nor Wendy’s can afford to spend much time on the whole list. When he gets answers to his inquiry, he looks for reasons to reject them, and it doesn’t take much to be weeded out.
Our consultant presented the city with a mock inquiry such as a site locator might put out, and the city did their best to respond as though it were a real inquiry for something we really wanted to bring to our town. The consultant went over our response as a site locator would, and the city was actually astonished at how badly we flunked, there were lots of reasons we would have been stroked off without a serious look.
Easiest to deal with were training of our economic development and city hall staff as to what information locators really want to see, jargon to use, and so on, and that was done. Tougher to deal with was that locators prefer to deal with an Economic Development Corporation rather than a municipality, municipalities have to make all decisions by by-law in public (well, that’s what the law says, anyway), which is way too public and slow for most business. The city set about putting in place an Economic Development Corporation. Unfortunately, Council was reluctant to delegate all the authority they would need to do the job effectively.
The biggest and first place we failed the site locator test, and the toughest to deal with, is that we have a drastic shortage of developed land, either commercial or industrial. Locators want a choice of sites, and we have too little – it is like a shoe store, you need a variety of styles and sizes if you expect to sell any shoes at all. So the city set about developing a larger lot commercial subdivision, and a medium lot industrial subdivision, with a large-lot industrial subdivision next on the radar screen.
The province demanded we expand the wastewater treatment plant before any land could be developed, and that huge project was done, and work was started on building the commercial and industrial subdivisions, but unfortunately not finished.
The trained staff is mostly gone, the Development Corporation pretty much neutered, and we have no land available for market, so the Site Locator adventure was pretty much wasted. Not quite, we did get a wastewater treatment plant, mostly paid for by senior governments, which will probably do us for the next fifty years.