United Way’s Francesca Dobbyn Offers Help on Council

As a new hopeful, Francesca Dobbyn current Executive Director of United Way Bruce Grey brings a keen awareness of the issues of rural poverty and the challenging economic conditions of this region.

Do you have any strategies prepared to encourage local economic growth? Which issue should this next term’s council give to more focus to: A) Bringing in new business developments, or B) encouraging small businesses presently in operations?

I think the first thing we need to do in the city is be investment ready. Basically City Hall needs to have a red carpet, not red tape.

When somebody comes in and says, “I’m thinking of bringing a business to the area, I want to invest, I want to open something,” it can’t be, “Here’s a stack of forms. Give us a call when you fill them all out.”

Maybe the zoning’s not right or it doesn’t fit into the overall city’s strategic plan. You know hiccups happen. There are things you just can’t put on a waterfront because of environmental issues. And the response needs to be, “How?” not “No.”

“How can we make this work,” rather than, “No, the regulations say you can’t do that.”

We need to have that red carpet vs red tape attitude.

We need to have our community investment ready. We need to have that red carpet vs red tape attitude. And that’s really the first step of economic development.

It’s also about doing your best to keep what’s already here going. It’s about supporting the efforts of the Chamber, the DIA, and all those different business groups, then cross-marketing between them.

One of the ideas that I have is a symposium, called Sound Off. It’ll be like the Big Ideas in Toronto. We bring together everybody and ask, “What’s your best idea for Owen Sound or Grey Bruce?”

We really have no idea about what’s happening in our backyard. Recently, there was a post on Facebook about concrete ping-pong tables in Toronto. Turns out we make them here! Who knew! So, let’s get everybody together and sound off about your best idea for our region.

What do you see has been the largest challenge over the last 10 years, faced by business operators in your region?

Certainly the 2008 crash of the stock market and the resulting recession has deeply impacted our community on many fronts. Worst has been the loss of businesses, the loss of jobs.

Our biggest employers tend to be government agencies, such as the hospital. So when the government cuts back and centralizes services in London, we lose out on those jobs.

The recession has also resulted in a tremendous amount of precarious work in the community, so the jobs that are here tend to be part time, and low wage. That reduces the amount of disposable income in the community, which results in the workers going and spending at big boxes rather than going downtown and having dinner and buying gifts at a niche store. So, the recession really impacted the community that way.

Do you think local business taxes are at a fair rate, or should be lowered or raised? Should there be any changes in the municipal services provided to businesses, (such as garbage removal)?

I have been told by business owner that they’re higher than other communities of the similar size. I think it’s an unreasonable expectation to think that should the city get in a better financial position that taxes would ever be reduced. I don’t think that a responsible thing to do.

If we ever get to that point, then we can do some investment. We can look at some infrastructure that that needs work or put some money into tourism and promotion.

I think lowering taxes is a false pretense. It’s just not going to happen because what we see right now is our crumbling infrastructure on a provincial level because the gov’t has come out with a policy of tax reduction. We end up with no money for infrastructure and so our bridges our roads, arenas our public facilities are under disrepair.

I’d certainly like to stabilize business related taxes with minimal increases at most, but generally keep it stable so the small business owner can get a head and be part of that economy.

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