Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Collingwood Needs An Economic Action Plan!

  With the exception of four years in the mid 1990’s during which time I lived in the U.S., followed by a couple of years in Kitchener, I have been in the Collingwood area since 1985. Like many I have witnessed the evaporation of Collingwood’s manufacturing sector which essentially commenced with the closing of the shipyards in 1986. I remember stopping on the way out of town on route to my grandfather’s funeral, to watch the last ship built at “Collship” slide down the greased rails into the harbour and along with it the remaining 200 or so jobs that still existed there at closing.
  My own employer the one that moved me to Collingwood in the first place, Goodyear Canada, is gone and as we all know there have been many others. Not only is the Goodyear Collingwood hose plant closed, but Goodyear corporately is out of the industrial rubber products business as well as many other product lines it had diverted into, choosing to focus on its core business, tires. Indeed the manufacturing sector not only in our area but across North America has and continues to be redefined and this will continue as the result of emerging economies such as China and India.
  You can ask virtually anyone around town and most will readily agree that Collingwood has done an abysmal job of re-inventing itself economically. Better paying manufacturing jobs have been replaced by low wage service industry positions in retail and tourism. Once thriving plants have either been torn down ie: Harding Carpets and Kaufman Furniture or they remain for the most part shuttered and “For Sale” such as the Goodyear facility or used for purposes such as off season car and boat storage. There is 15,000 square feet of office space in a beautiful new building on the east side of town that remains vacant with no tenant(s) over two years after it's completion and likewise for a 15,000 square foot warehouse on the same property.
  The Thursday February 10th edition of The Connection ran a small article announcing that Collingwood had won an award from the Economic Developers Council of Ontario for its “Collingwood Has It All Campaign.” The adjoining story on the same page titled “Barber Glass to be auctioned” stood in stark contrast to the celebratory mood reflected on the face of the Mayor and Town staff accepting the aforementioned award at a ceremony in Toronto. At the very least, one might feel that placing these two news items on the same page was poor editorial judgment on the part of The Connection. If you choose to offer up some harsher criticism you might question is it even appropriate for Town staff to be “grandstanding” at an award ceremony when so many are either out of work or have had to leave the area to find it elsewhere? I am sure the 65 or 70 former employees of the short-lived Barber Glass plant find little solace in the Town’s award winning status and the same can no doubt be said of those that preceded the Barber Glass employees with permanent layoff notices at the Shipyards, Harding Carpets, Bendix, Goodyear, Kaufman, Nacan and others.
  The only way to gauge the effectiveness of an economic development initiative such as the “Collingwood Has It All” campaign is in the creation of jobs and via other tangible economic measurements. Anything else is smoke and mirrors. Awards don’t put food on the table, buy clothes or pay rent.  Residential property taxes have spiralled out of control partly due to the tax imbalance that exists due to reduced commercial activity in the area.
  Collingwood is years overdue in developing a comprehensive, focused and above all realistic economic development strategy. We need a definitive plan to rebuild our fractured economy developed and championed by experienced business people not bureaucrats.  Enough of the rhetoric about the lack of serviced industrial land or the absence skilled labour. That merely illustrates a “build it and they will come” mentality and in this day and age with continued uncertainty in an economy that is become increasingly global in nature, that attitude and approach simply won’t work.  Yes, Collingwood has a lot of outstanding characteristics natural and otherwise, but a well defined path to economic growth isn't one of them.

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Rick relocated to Collingwood from Toronto in 1985 through a transfer with Goodyear Canada. In 1987 Rick was recruited by a major client of Goodyear’s, managing their Canadian business based in Barrie before moving to Chicago in 1992 as Vice President of Sales & Marketing. Upon returning to Canada in 1996, Rick ran an industrial products manufacturing company in Stratford, Ontario. In 1998 Rick returned to Collingwood with his two children. Rick is a licensed real estate Broker with Royal LePAGE Locations North in Collingwood and holds his MVA designation (Market Value Appraiser-Residential). He is an active volunteer in the community serving several years on the Board of Directors with the Collingwood Chamber of Commerce as Treasurer, 6 years on the Board of Directors for the Southern Georgian Bay Association of REALTORS® of which he is the Past President (2008) and currently serves on a committee with the Ontario Real Estate Association. Rick is a diverse executive manager with extensive experience in strategic planning, manufacturing, finance, human resources and quality assurance management.