Report lists district’s strengths, weaknesses

Fort Frances must improve training and telecommunications in order continue to develop economically, a study that assessed the economic development of Rainy River District found.
“It was written by totally unbiased people and they are the shortfalls that we need to address,” Mayor Glenn Witherspoon said.
The study also noted Fort Frances, and Rainy River District, are not perceived as a desirable area for relocation–partly because it is such a rural area.
The report, prepared by the U.S. firm Paragon Decision Resources Inc. for the Rainy River Future Development Corp., lists the district’s strengths and weaknesses.
It assesses communities at the request of companies based on a number of categories, including labour, education and training, economic development programming, infrastructure and telecommunications, and community services.
Employers throughout the district were surveyed to help compile the data.
Fort Frances was listed as strong in all the areas but education and training and telecommunications, and some improvement was suggested for the town’s infrastructure and quality of life.
The suggested improvements in telecommunications will be met if the upgrades by Bell, announced after the data was compiled, are carried out.
“With the announcement from Bell that they will spend $5 million, that has improved our infrastructure and telecommunications by 90 percent,” noted Mayor Witherspoon.
The lack of success among local high school graduates was one of the most deficient items listed in the report. It indicated that more than 50 percent of high school graduates are not attending a college or university despite the presence of Confederation College here.
In communities of similar size in the U.S. which were used as a comparison to Fort Frances, 60-70 percent of high school graduates pursue a post-secondary education.
Employers interviewed rated higher education, particularly Internet technology training and services, as well below average.
But the report does indicate a labour force is available here for industry expansion. Those labourers also were listed as high-quality, giving Fort Frances strength in those two categories of the report.
The town’s location also was praised in the report due to its proximity to the American border and its central location between Manitoba and eastern Ontario.
The report suggested some changes in the town’s industrial park, including the addition of curbs and gutters where drainage currently is handled by a culvert system.
“As we speak, we are trying to improve our industrial park,” said Mayor Witherspoon. “We still have a long way to go.”
In an assessment of the quality of life in the area, the report found there was a lack of retail choices and cultural activities compared to similar U.S. communities, as well as a lack of historical preservation.
The Paragon report also noted the continued out-migration of youth may lead to a shortage down the road–a topic that has been brought up by a number of community leaders over the past year.
The report compared Fort Frances to Watertown, S.D., which has a population of 20,000, and Washington, Iowa with 7,000 people.