By Chad Ingram
A dearth of suitable property high rentand lack of access to high-speed Internet were some of the key challenges todoing business in Haliburton County identified by members of the localmanufacturing and light industry sector during a roundtable discussion hostedby the Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce in 2015.
“Manufacturing light industry is animportant and growing sector in the Haliburton Highlands” said chamber of commercemanager Rosemarie Jung as she presented the findings of the roundtable toAlgonquin Highlands councillors during a March 3 council meeting.
“About a dozen businesses were unable tojoin us but we consulted by phone” Jung said.
Ten people were present for the roundtablediscussion representing local businesses including Heat-Line The Dock SpotChaulk Woodworking Artech Studios Haliburton Soap Factory Hyland Ice andCottage Hill Furniture and an additional dozen or so were consulted by phone.
A lack of appropriate property in thecommunity was one of the major challenges identified by participants.
“What definitely came forward at themeeting is that there is a shortage of suitable properties” Jung said addingthat participants had said existing industrial areas were unattractive and theywere seeking more aesthetically pleasing environments.
“This is something I had never heard beforefrom the business community” Jung said adding there was great interest in“business park” style developments.
Participants also reported a shortage ofsuitable venues for rent.
“Typically new businesses are looking toestablish themselves in a rental of lease environment” Jung said addingroundtable members also commented that rent in the county can be excessivelyhigh.
The discussion also revealed that lack ofrental housing for potential employees can also hamper hiring.
“The lack of rental housing limits theattractiveness of the Haliburton Highlands” Jung said.
Other concerns were inflexible and costlybylaws a feeling that businesses are under-acknowledged or under-valued andthat business attraction does not seem to be a priority for local municipalgovernments.
“For many people I spoke with they feltthat tourism is the focus of the entire county” Jung said.
While the upper tier of Haliburton Countyonce dealt with both tourism and economic development a few years ago thecounty shed economic development from its responsibilities passing the task ofbusiness development to its four lower tiers.
“I think it's working in some places butit's a real challenge for some of the municipalities to handle that portfolio”said Deputy-reeve Liz Danielsen.
Jung said lack of access to reliablehigh-speed Internet was one of the top barriers identified during theroundtable.
Haliburton County council recently voted toinvest $360000 in a project with Bell for the company to expand its fibreoptic cable network in the community. That project will add and improveInternet access at 24 publicly owned buildings in the county and increasepublic wireless hot spots. However it does not include a component forresidences or businesses.
Jung said that municipal official planreviews currently underway are a way the chamber and businesses can haveinfluence on local policy. Jung said the chamber had met with the county'splanners and would like to participate in the reviews of official plans at thelower-tier level as well.
“I think those conversations should takeplace at this table rather than with the planner” Danielsen said.
Jung said some business owners werediscussing the benefits of joint location and consolidating reception andadministrative functions.
The chamber will also be doing research onclean technology.
“There was some talk about clean tech sowe are going to do some research into what is clean tech” Jung said.
“Definitely clean tech is something we'relooking for within the business park we develop” Danielsen said.
Algonquin Highlands council has plans for afuture business park at the Stanhope Airport.
“It kind of came across a little morenegative than I would have thought” Councillor Marlene Kyle said of thefindings of the roundtable discussion. “It's certainly food for thought.”