Council to weigh signing with RRFDC

Town council said Monday it would decide by Feb. 29 whether or not it would sign a new three-year deal with the Rainy River Future Development Corp.
And while Mayor Dan Onichuk said “all factors need to be weighed” before any decisions are made as the town works on its 2004 budget over the next couple of months, information presented by the RRFDC on Monday evening indicated they very well might be the town’s best choice for the job.
RRFDC chair Telford Advent told council that if the town does not choose the RRFDC, it would have a very difficult time finding a suitable replacement for similar economic development services.
“At 8,000 people [in Fort Frances], it is hard to get site locators to even look at the area. You’re not even on their radar screen,” he remarked, referring to the difficulty in finding a consultant to fill the role of current EDO Geoff Gillon.
As well, any replacement likely would cost even more than the capped amount of $112,500 the RRFDC charges the town—given that it would mean hiring a consultant, secretarial staff, and setting up a new office at the very least.
Treasurer John McTaggart noted the RRFDC carries out a myriad of duties, including:
•representing Fort Frances and the district in regional economic development initiatives;
•acting as a first point of contact for persons with business concerns and interests;
•promoting trade expansion;
•maintaining a community profile and economic data on Fort Frances;
•assisting town administration with numerous studies;
•promoting the airport;
•making proposals for projects such as broadband;
•offering business training courses, business counselling, and business loans; and
•assisting local groups such as the Chamber of Commerce, Women’s Business Network, and Business Improvement Association.
In just one example, McTaggart noted the RRFDC’s management of the industrial park over the past three years has seen an estimated 67 jobs created, more than $250,00 in land sold, and a total of $206,000 in taxes coming in annually from RRFDC clients there.
He noted the RRFDC is a team that consists not only of experienced staff, but a board of directors and two committees, and has a total of 64 volunteers drawn from the district.
Additionally, McTaggart stressed the RRFDC—contrary to what some may believe—is not responsible for ventures such as the Tennessee “twinning” project, which, in fact, was driven by the former senior administration and former town council.
McTaggart noted the RRFDC is “flexible” and “can change to suit council’s needs” if they don’t like the current direction in which the RRFDC has been going.
“I’m very impressed with the amount of services you provide. But if Fort Frances went off and provided an EDO on its own, would that hurt the RRFDC?” Coun. Rick Wiedenhoeft asked McTaggart and Advent.
Advent noted it likely would mean that current projects would have to be scaled back and staff would have to be laid off.
“We may have to change the direction of the corporation. We were counting on a three-year contract,” added McTaggart.
Advent noted the RRFDC would continue to exist and serve the rest of the district, but that, by working on contravention of the policy “what’s good for Fort Frances is good for the district” and vice versa, both the town and neighbouring municipalities would suffer.
Furthermore, the RRFDC saw some clear support from council.
“At first, I thought we could market ourselves. But after listening to Telford and John, it seems what’s good for Fort Frances is good for the district. I think we really need [the RRFDC],” said Coun. Wiedenhoeft.
“It seems we’re stronger together than apart,” he added.
“You hit the nail on the head,” replied Advent.
“They’ve done a good job for us over the past three years,” said Coun. Roy Avis, who was on council in 2000 when the town signed its first deal with the RRFDC.
“I think the relationship has been very, very good,” he added.
Coun. Neil Kabel even noted that perhaps the town should look into its budget to see if it should spend more money on the RRFDC than it has been, given that any dollars sunk into the RRFDC is matched by senior government.
“I think we’ve been underfunding our economic development for a long time,” he remarked, adding the town could be getting “more bang with its buck” if it made better use of matching dollars.
Council ultimately agreed to discuss another three-year contract among itself at future meetings, especially where the 2004 budget is concerned, and give the RRFDC word on its decision by Feb. 29.
The RRFDC, which is partially funded by FedNor, must contact the government about its funding—and whether the town is on board—by the end of March.
With the Feb. 29 deadline, council will be giving them a month to get their funding proposal together.
The RRFDC’s current contract with the town expired Nov. 30, but the previous “lame duck” council was unable to renew the agreement prior to the new council coming in.