COLUMN: A win for Johnstown, a loss for South Dundas

MORRISBURG — As the big announcement was made on September 30th of the proposed Giant Tiger distribution center in Johnstown, a question remains to be answered in South Dundas. Was the municipality considered for the project?

Reading through the announcement from the Township of Edwardsburgh-Cardinal, all of the announced reasons for Giant Tiger expanding to that area match with what is available in South Dundas.  Available land, check. Workforce, check. Connections to 400-series highways, check. Proximity to other stores, check. So why not South Dundas?

Dig a little deeper into what is going on, and the differences become much more apparent. Edwardsburgh-Cardinal promotes the assets it has, and works to draw business in. It has become one of the first industrial areas in the province under the “Certified Site Program”. This program promotes and lets industries know that they have sites that are ready to go, ready for their investment. The township, with a population of 6,959 people according to Statistics Canada, came up with a 10 point plan to address economic development in 2012. Less than three years later, nine of the 10 points have been implemented.

Edwardsburgh-Cardinal has someone working in economic development. Not a full time position, that person also handles communications for the township and provides administrative support in other departments. Still, there is someone working the economic development file. Tourism is not something the township focuses on, partnering instead the regional chamber of commerce and the county to ensure they are promoted. This enables Edwardsburgh-Cardinal to use their resources more efficiently. Given the conditional purchase of a majority of their Johnstown industrial park, this plan appears to work well.

In comparison, South Dundas has 10,794 residents, or 35 percent more than Edwardsburgh-Cardinal. South Dundas council decided five months ago to scuttle the Economic Development Officer position after the resignation of Nicole Sullivan. The municipality’s economic development committee has stayed dormant despite the election promises of the current mayor to reactivate it. Council has had no focus when it comes to economic development, other than ad hoc funding deals for events such as the Renegade Bass Tournament. Some on council have taken their cues from niche groups instead of focusing on community as a whole. South Dundas has two industrial parks and a port area, a high vacancy rate in commercial space in the municipality, and a need for something to happen.

Successes like what has happened in Edwardsburgh-Cardinal are possible in South Dundas, if there is focus. The focus has to start from those that sit on council, targeting economic development as a driving force for job retention and growth in the communities. South Dundas council was to review after six months if the role of Economic Development Officer should be filled, which would be in November. The review should ask one simple yes or no question. Has South Dundas done better or worse without an Economic Development Officer? The answer is clear, South Dundas needs a person in this role.

Right now, South Dundas has no plan, no vision, no focus, and no one working on economic development. A win for other communities like Johnstown and Edwardsburgh-Cardinal, a loss for South Dundas.

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