COLUMN: Stale economic development

Economic development done well attracts new business to the region, creates jobs, and is a benefit to those who fund it. Done wrong, and it can help turn an area into the storage locker capital of the region.

There are many examples of both that this column has covered. Success in Edwardsburgh-Cardinal’s action plan that attracted the new Giant Tiger distribution center; and failure in South Dundas township’s dithering at whether to have an economic development officer at all. Cornwall is a mixed bag of success and failure. We only hear of the successes, and there has been few of those reported as of late. Why?

The city has spent a lot of money in marketing post-Domtar. It has worked with noted firm Banfield-Seguin to rebrand the city and launched ChooseCornwall.ca. Over $200,000 was spent just on Cornwall’s new image. Since then, many more tax dollars have gone to a website, logos, slogans, magazines, advertising, and junkets. All have their merits and their place, that is not in dispute. There have been successes from this. Shoppers Drug Mart and Target located here. Of course, Target didn’t work out but Walmart will be fixing that by taking over their former distribution center. Cornwall weathered the recession and the bridge crisis. Now retail along Brookdale Avenue is improving. Job prospects, well not so much.

Attracting the big fish, the manufacturing companies, data centers and other well-paying job creators are only part of the picture. Retail development, including small and medium business, is important too. Both the city and local realtors, are behind the times and have poor customer service. Is this why Cornwall and the region still lags behind other similar sized areas?

From the premise that this columnist was going to start a retail store selling widgets, the first place to look for information in the modern age is Google. Top of the list of commercial real estate in Cornwall Ontario was the city’s website. That is a good first start. That is also where the wheels fell off. Searching through the site’s listing of available commercial lease properties was akin to building a jigsaw puzzle with half the pieces missing.

The city’s listing for the largest shopping mall in Cornwall, Cornwall Square, had contact information that was out of date. It referred to an office in Barrie, Ontario, which when contacted has not managed real estate leasing for the mall in a couple of years. It took three more calls to finally yield the correct leasing information contact, in Toronto.

Other real estate inventory is out-of-date. The former Ontario tourism center on Brookdale is listed as being for sale for $449,000. The owners of Eight Zero Zero Resto Lounge might disagree considering they purchased the property in 2015. The large vacancy at the Brookdale Centre will soon have a Dollarama open. All critical details to a prospective retail store operator looking for a prime location to open.

Now you may argue that it’s just a few out-of-date listings. If the out-of-date information frustrates a simple writer, what would it do to an investor with actual money wanting to do something in Cornwall? Why is this not up-to-date and accurate? With the amount of staff on the payroll in the city, how hard is it to update a website?

Communication by realtors is another issue. Two well-advertised realtors with commercial leasing signs up in the city were contacted. Voice messages were left as it was during the day. Seven days later, no return calls. If someone’s business was to lease property to people wanting to sell widgets, it would help to return people’s phone calls to help that along.

Maybe this writer hit a bad bit of luck, picking the wrong search engine results, the wrong realtors to inquire about leasing with. Or maybe this is systemic of a stale economic development effort within and by the city of Cornwall. We don’t know because only successes make the news, not failures.

Before focusing on fluoride in the water system. Or trying to tell daycare center operators where the need is for subsidized child care spots.  City council and administration should focus on economic development, and keep focusing on it. Economic development creates and retains jobs. Jobs that enable people to pay their taxes and live, work and play in the city. That should be among the highest priority for the leadership of the city and done well.

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