/County finds their footing with economic development

County finds their footing with economic development

By Emily Stonehouse

Ontario celebrated their province-wide Economic Development (ED) Week from May 8 to 12, which was a timely coincidence for the County of Haliburton officially adopting their economic development strategy on April 26, presented by director of economic development, Scott Ovell. 

This plan has been in the works for years, and with the official adoption by county council, Ovell has been given the green light to proceed with the action items outlined in the project. “While this did take us a little bit longer than we wanted,” Ovell said, “this plan gives us the opportunity to work with a lot of different groups in the community. We are going to rely on working with these existing organizations.” 

Ovell shared with the Times that based minimal staffing at the county ED department, partnering with established groups in the community is the key to getting this plan off the ground. These groups who are on board include but are not limited to; the Haliburton County Development Corporation, Fleming Crew, Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce, and the Homebuilders Association. 

“The [economic development] department has really only been functioning as a team for a year,” said Ovell, “but we are already noticing that there are organizations realizing that they can approach us and ask us for help, and we can find a way to work with them.”

Historically, the role of ED was spread across the four lower-tier municipalities, with a tourism focus sitting at a county level. Minden Hills dabbled in having a specific ED officer who focused on marketing and tourism, but the trial concept was ushered to a county level after two years in place. Highlands East currently has an economic development coordinator, but the other three lower-tier municipalities look to the county for ED support. 

The ED department at a county level now comprises a team of four, who garner a focus on tourism; the primary industry for the region. 

While tourism is at the forefront of marketing initiatives, it is not the sole driver for the newly adopted ED plan. “We see it as a primary industry, so we’re not stepping away from that,” said Ovell, “but we want to be more than a marketing department. We want this to be seen as an economic development strategy for the county. Marketing tourism is a part of that, but there’s more to it.” 

Ovell referenced how the plan incorporates multiple sectors beyond tourism; including climate change and community safety and well-being. He believes that by incorporating multiple areas of focus that the county is responsible for, the ED plan can have more impact on the community as a whole. 

While the plan, which was produced by Strexer Harrop Consulting Group, was officially adopted by county council on April 26, it has been reviewed prior to that, meaning that it did not include the Minden emergency room closure, which was announced on April 20. 

When asked about how the removal of the ER would affect the plan, Ovell was unsure at this time. “It’s certainly going to impact it,” he told the Times, “but right now, we don’t exactly know how.” It is assumed that the four pillars of the plan; creation, attraction, retention, and expansion of businesses, will likely all be impacted in some capacity by lessened resources in the community, but Ovell shared that he is uncertain as to what the actual impacts would be so early in the conversation around the closure. 

County council approved $30,000 for the roll-out of the plan, which is in place for this term of council until 2026. The costs of each action item in the plan are aligned with one of the four ED pillars outlined above, including media releases, social media campaigns, a new website specific to ED, and a formalized database for businesses to access ED support. 

“This isn’t going to be a plan that just sits on the shelf,” said Ovell, “because we’re not starting fresh. We’re not starting at the beginning. We’re already working on issues that were outlined in the project, so we will continue doing that.” 

The full ED report and strategy can be found by visiting www.wadein.haliburtoncounty.ca