RRFDC looks back on 2019 economic development

Ken Kellar

2019 proved to be an interesting and varied year for Fort Frances, from an economic point of view.
Economic development officer Tannis Drysdale presented Fort Frances town council with a review and highlights package of the economic development of the town for 2019 at Monday night’s council meeting. Drysdale spoke to council about the role of the Rainy River Future Development Corporation, the town’s core services and updates on the priority projects for the previous calendar year as well as brief looks ahead at many of these portfolios going into 2020.

“The RRFDC is… a community future development corporation and it is funded in part by the federal government through FedNor and also municipal funds from across the region,” Drysdale explained.

“In 2020 currently, we are managing 14 grants on behalf of the town of Fort Frances plus three grants that went directly to the town of Fort Frances. These grants vary from $3,000, little grants that we get to help out Rainy Lake Square, to millions of dollars that run tile drainage or big projects throughout the Rainy River district.”

Included in some of the grants managed and written by the RRFDC were the applications for the Shevlin Woody Yard project.

Drysdale then moved on to detailing the core services that are offered to the town of Fort Frances, which include tourism promotion, industrial lot sales and small business support in addition to a few others.

“We also do training, whether it’s social media or how to start a small business,” she said.

“We do information sharing, co-operative marketing through Go Local, and then forestry/mining procurement and work on our succession planning for small and medium-sized businesses.”

As part of what Drysdale calls the RRFDC’s Civic and Community Building initiatives, the corporation works on events like the Canada Day Parade, or with groups like the age friendly committee. Council was also presented with an update on Project Petunia, the beautification project that graces downtown Fort Frances each summer.

“We are in the process of getting our sponsorships set up for 2020,” Drysdale noted.

“And in 2020 we’re getting all new baskets. After 20 years, it’s time. I think that we’ll have a better pop of petunias next summer as a result.”

The main thrust of the presentation to council was the updates on many of the 2019 priority projects and their standings as the town heads into the new year.

The topic that dominated much of the conversation in town last year was the sale of the former Resolute mill property to a new owner. Drysdale noted that work is continuing with the new owners of the mill property in order to determine what opportunities are available going forward.

“They can provide some industry or some support or something that is mutually beneficial to them and the community to make the best of that particular asset,” she said.

“At the same time we’ve applied for funding to help us both better understand what the fibre is going to be looking like in the forest that isn’t used and to find a value-added manufacturer to use it, whether on that site or in another spot in Fort Frances.”

Drysdale also made note of the new forest strategy that’s being developed and implemented by the Ontario government, which, among other things, looks to double the amount of fibre that is generated from the forest and provide extra opportunities for development in the area.

“That’s going to be helpful, and reduce the costs to loggers and to other forest users by finding efficiencies,” she said.

“That married with the creation of the Boundary Waters Forestry Corporation, which will create greater transparency, gives us some really solid building blocks to find some success here in terms of a new Forest business that will operate in our community.”

Touching on the Fort Frances Tourist Centre, Drysdale told council that they are currently anticipating that funding will not be incoming for the building this year.

“We have received notice from the Northern Ontario Tourism Association that the funding is not going to be coming our way this year,” Drysdale said.

“So you push that up just a little bit and we’ll probably be coming to council hoping that they will chat with their counterparts in the provincial government and have them make what I would think is a better decision about funding our Tourism Center.”

While the funding for the Tourism Centre is currently in flux, the Rainy Lake Square and the weekly market that is held in the square are in a very strong position for the year.

“We’re working heavily on getting our private sector and public sector sponsorship together so that we can offer, every Thursday night in the summer, both the farmers’ market and then an event, a promotion,” Drysdale explained.

“[We’re] really happy that the private sector is again stepping up this year. We have never lost a private sector sponsor in the Rainy Lake Square. They’ve been happy with the turnout and we’ll move forward with that. This year we’re going to see some enhancements to the farmers’ market based on a Grant application that was approved last year.”

Also mentioned in the presentation:

  • Go Local is entering its seventh year, some improvements to the program and technological changes are being investigated.
  • increasing the digital and social media presence of the town. An ad for the Erin Crescent lots reached about 8,000 views, and roughly 2,500 people watched a video that featured Mayor June Caul and Councillor Doug Judson talking about the new single-use plastic bylaw.
  • RRFDC is in the process of creating a multi-year plan for the municipal accommodation tax that was introduced last year. A consultant will be returning at the end of this month and $125,000 is available in-year to invest in municipal advertising and marketing.
  • wwwork is continuing with New Gold for mining exploration, training plans and finding funding and linking vendors with opportunities, like value added agriculture or projects that can be linked up to nearby communities