RRFDC asked to focus on town
“Don’t forget about us.”
That’s the message Mayor Roy Avis had for Rainy River Future Development Corp. regional economic developer Geoff Gillon and board chair George Emes during a budget meeting Monday, where council discussed what the RRFDC does for the town.
Mayor Avis noted the Administration and Finance executive committee reviewed this request a couple of weeks ago and raised the question: “Are we getting the bang for our buck?”
“There doesn’t seem to be any new ideas that are coming forward,” said Mayor Avis, adding Fort Frances pays the lion’s share of the RRFDC’s economic development budget.
The mayor questioned whether the town is getting its fair share or is it time for the town to go out on its own?
“Our budgets are strained right to the end, and we want somebody who’s going to be working for us in a very positive manner,” Mayor Avis remarked.
“Not saying you’re not doing a great job, but what can we do to make it better if we’re going to put forward this $55,000?” he asked.
Gillon said the RRFDC has spent a lot of time in the past year on the new “Go Local” initiative, which is a major business retention project—one-of-a-kind in Ontario—that promotes the value of small businesses.
The RRFDC also has been working with the mining sector.
“It is incumbent on us, as a community, to be prepared for that,” Gillon stressed.
“It’s hard for us to know which way it’s going to go,” he admitted. “You listen to the news and it’s not as optimistic today as it was last year as it was the year before.
“You just have to be supportive of the mining company.”
Gillon said he’s looking to leverage the town’s money with federal and provincial dollars so that over the next three years, there would be $860,000 in place to promote Fort Frances and surrounding communities as well as hire a resource specialist.
The RRFDC also has been handling tourism marketing.
Emes said his question to town council is: what do you want?
“You ask us for ideas. That’s all fine and dandy,” he remarked. “But the point of it all is, in this day and age right now, if we’re going to get anything done, we have to have not just people at the table here come up with ideas, we need other people to come up with ideas.
“We need input.”
Emes later urged anyone in the community to share their ideas for new businesses and share any possible business contacts, adding that no idea is too “off the wall” to consider.
He also noted the community does not have to rely on big investors to get businesses going—local investors each can throw money in a pot to get something going.
“We’re not looking for major Wall Street investors to come waltzing into Fort Frances because they don’t know where the hell we are,” Emes said.
“We’re going to have to do our own investing.
“We’re going to have to think that way,” he reiterated. “We’re going to think like a community of investors, not just a community of people looking for somebody to bail us out because there’s nobody out there.”
After attending recent BIA and Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce meetings, Emes said he feels the local business community seems to be coming around to the idea that they can’t count on the town for help.
“As far as I am concerned, that’s the way we’re going to get Fort Frances to turn around . . . it’s got to be up to us because no one else is going to do it for us,” he stressed.
Coun. Andrew Hallikas said he was glad to hear that the RRFDC was open to ideas from council.
“These are really, really tough times and we do want to maximize the efficiencies of the money that we’re putting out,” he remarked.
“Nobody wants to cut dollars to economic development at a time like this.
“We just want to ensure that every one of these difficult dollars that we’re wringing out of our taxpayers is going to go good use,” Coun. Hallikas added.
Coun. Ken Perry said it’s not a matter of something new but finding new uses for something old, namely the mill.
“We’ve got that mill sitting there,” he noted. “We need you people maybe to be . . . experts on pulp and paper and lumber and wood, not secondary stuff—primary stuff.”
Coun. Perry added if a primary industry isn’t here, the secondary ones don’t work.
“Fort Frances needs more itself, and the district will gain by it,” he reasoned, saying that the talk lately has been that the district will get mining and Fort Frances will benefit from it.
“Well, Fort Frances is number-one in my mind,” Coun. Perry stressed.
“I live here, I am on council here, so in my mind we’ve got to spend the money first of all in Fort Frances and then hopefully the district will benefit from it.”
Mayor Avis agreed there should be some way the town can move in a positive direction with Resolute to reposition the mill and find out more about what might be happening, such as finding out who the Chinese company representatives were who toured the mill earlier this year.
Coun. Perry noted other ideas the RRFDC should be pursuing include focusing on the health-care sector, getting a casino for the benefit of the entire district, and finding a better way to do recycling in Rainy River District.