Economic Development – the holy grail for Municipalities. Everybody chants the mantra – “economic development is good for us, we will create jobs and raise money for tax revenue!” Almost every mickey mouse idea can be tagged with the soubriquet. Most voters believe whatever the Pols call ED, because nobody knows what it is. Pardon our cynicism as we have been breathing the air of the believers for as long as they have been saying it. Usually the water will change and the air becomes laden with dreams around election time. But Cobourg pols have been living and breathing this stuff pretty actively for the last few years and now the strategic planning process is well under way the ED dreams may be finally reaching the start line. At least the incumbents may have a project to boast about in the next election.
Cobourg has always been a municipality that has not been afraid to step on the toes of the private enterprise model. In 1932, debate and action took place about the ‘municipalisation’ of the local Water and Electric Utilities and the Public Utilities Commission was formed. In the 1990s the Town assumed ownership of the Lands and buildings of the Northam Ordnance Depot, commonly known as the Depot. Cobourg now owns a million square feet of leasable indusrial space and it also makes money.
Building on that investment for a greater slice of ED has been hard. It used to be that the elected Mayors were once colourful and exuberant fellows – Jack Heenan and Angus Read to mention a couple. It was enough for those folks and the sleepier and abundant times to follow leads and open the doors of Cobourg to industries looking for a home. But with the demise of the ‘branch plant economy’ and the advent of the consumer society it is sad that the largest employers in the Town are all public enterprises – KPRDSB. NHH, the Town of Cobourg. So what can the good burghers do to counter this and attract business to Town? Cobourg struggled with that one for a few years, hired a Director of Economic Development and told him to get on with it. When the last Director fell into trouble, it was deemed to be a good time to save money, drop the job a couple of pay grades and we haven’t had a Director of ED since. It didn’t die completely, in a couple of budgets ago there was a slot for a “Business Retention Officer” but that initiative fizzled out when the direction turned to become a “Downtown Business Officer”. We have yet to see the wisdom or results in that one. Direction floundered some more and now the wheel has turned and it appears that the latest advent is that ED should be a cooperative effort with the County and other agencies. Despite this tale of gloom and doom the one bright spot has been the work of the Community Futures Development Corporation (CFDC). This agency led by an amazing person – Wendy Curtis, who has dragged the agency into the future and inspired many business’ and entrepreneurs. The recipient of many millions of dollars, put back into the community, Ms Curtis has now led the CFDC into, what, on paper, looks like an idea that may work this time.
Venture 13, a Dynamic Venture Centre, will be a business hub and incubator. This concept floated to Cobourg Council on March 13 was adopted and translated into a report from the CAO, read it here. SImple idea – use the unused former administration building at the town owned industrial park to house an expanded business unit of the Cobourg Police Services and fill the rest of the building with partners in the hub.
Business incubators are not a new idea, in fact Port Hope had one, but shut down after a couple of years for undisclosed reasons. Cobourg thinks they can succeed, and probably will if all the partners get fully involved. For a fuller report than this read John Draper’s Cobourg News here.
All we can say is that we hope it works, it certainly will be an expensive experiment if it doesn’t – $2,920,000 final cost in the report.