Shop Local? It’s Time to Practice what you Preach

Over the last hundred years Owen Sound has experienced many powerful storms fed by its proximity to Lake Huron and location on Georgian Bay. Today new and established businesses are experiencing a different kind of storm that threatens their ability to compete in this community.

What’s causing this storm? Local and county government, as well as many key decision makers in this community, believe they must look beyond the city and region for specialized business experience and expertise. Owen Sound promotes itself as, “Where you want to live.” This may be true, but don’t count on the city to support your business. Their mindset is that local businesses can provide the basic services, but the real business talent, skill and ability exist elsewhere. They may promote the importance of supporting local business, but often do the opposite when awarding contracts. This is not something new and is easily evident. The City of Owen Sound, the local Chamber of Commerce and Grey County are recent examples of this practice.

Owen Sound promotes itself as, “Where you want to live.” This may be true, but don’t count on the city to support your business. The City made front page news with their controversial decision to select an Ottawa based contractor to upgrade the city’s waste water treatment plant.  The other finalist, an Owen Sound contractor, had submitted a lower bid, but was unsuccessful.  The city used a quality-based evaluation scoring procedure resulting in the local contractor losing by a small margin. It is common practice in the private sector to interview the top finalists before making a decision. The close score demanded that the city do the same. Unfortunately, the city had already decided that this local business did not have what it takes to compete.

In selecting the Ottawa based contractor the Owen Sound Mayor stressed that, “the selection process used by the city is considered best practices by the National Research Council and Consulting Engineers of Ontario.” The selection was based on a number of measurable factors including professional competence, managerial ability, availability of resources and professional integrity. However, the ‘Quality Based Consultant Section Guide’ issued by the International Federation of Consulting Engineers and endorsed by the Consulting Engineers of Ontario acknowledges the value of using local contractors. It states, “Local knowledge can also be an important consideration . . . and this could be given appropriate weighting during the evaluation process.”  The city did not include in their evaluation any recognition for a local submission. The local business would likely have scored higher than the Ottawa based company if this factor had been included in the evaluation procedure.

Why would new businesses, encouraged by the city to locate in Owen Sound, consider this a viable opportunity knowing that the city ignores their proximity when bidding on city contracts?This was not an oversight. Owen Sound has no by-law or policy that gives consideration to local companies attempting to secure city contracts. Local knowledge can save time and money as well as streamline processes and procedures. With no policy or by-law the city places no value on the important role local business plays in this economy through taxes, employment, purchasing supplies and services and more.

Why would new businesses, encouraged by the city to locate in Owen Sound, consider this a viable opportunity knowing that the city ignores their proximity when bidding on city contracts?

Local businesses don’t automatically deserve city contracts just because of their location. But being local has value and should be included in the evaluation when scoring submissions for city contracts.

The Owen Sound Chamber of Commerce states on its website that its mission is to: Help create a welcome environment for development, new entrepreneurs and business expansions. Its slogan, “A Strong Voice for Local Business” is proudly displayed on its signage.

Great in principle but what about in practice?

The Chamber will soon launch a new web site that was not designed by a local firm. The competition to design this site was extremely close and between a local firm and one near Collingwood. Almost every aspect including price was comparable, but the Chamber committee made its decision to go elsewhere. The primary reason the out-of-town firm was selected was their experience completing a web site for the Collingwood Chamber of Commerce. Why is it that the Collingwood Chamber was willing to take the risk and go with a local business where Owen Sound’s Chamber was not?

Without a belief in the ability of local business, Owen Sound is jeopardizing its opportunity to grow and prosper.The recent approval by Grey County of a new logo is another example of the dated belief that specialized skills and expertise are not locally available. As has been well publicized, the $30,000 logo and tag line was designed by a Toronto company. Reaction has been less than enthusiastic. A well conceived logo and tag line should not require the designer to repeatedly explain what it means. It is a concern when a county councillor describes the design as ‘disgusting’. The best that can be said by those who approved it is, “it will grow on people.”

As mentioned in a recent opinion piece in the Owen Sound Sun Times, “Apparently the county brain trust didn’t know that a few of the best logo designers in the country live right around home.”  A letter to the editor asked the crucial question, “Why on earth would we pay $30,000 to a company in Toronto to design something for arts rich Grey County? What happened to buy local?” The new logo for the City of Owen Sound? Designed by an out-of-town firm.

What can be learned from these examples?

Lip service to a good idea is not enough. Three opportunities were available for local government and community organizations to take a lead and show by example that they are willing to “shop local”. In each case they failed. Without a belief in the ability of local business, Owen Sound is jeopardizing its opportunity to grow and prosper. If local business is not given the chance to do business in its own community, Owen Sound cannot fulfill its potential and promise of a place that is where you want to live… and work.

The prevalent misconception that local businesses lack the homegrown skills, experience and know-how to compete needs to change. The fact that businesses do compete not only in Owen Sound, but in provincial, national and international markets cannot be denied. Key decision makers and those of influence in this community should trust the talent, experience and expertise of those living and working in Owen Sound. We don’t know everything, but give this business community credit. The first place to look for the “know how” is in our own back yard.

Author: Peter Reesor

 

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