SHERBROOKE – Hoping to build more coherence into business planning for the St. Mary’s area, Chief Administrative Officer Marvin MacDonald expects to hire at least one economic development officer within the year.
“We’ve just closed a posting for a short-term development projects coordinator who will put together RFPs (request for proposals) from consultants to do our planning updates,” he explains. “Once that term is up, we’ll try to fill a permanent post for a planning and economic development officer who will work closely with local area businesses on longer-range issues.”
The jobs would involve updating the municipality’s existing planning documents – some of which are three years old – and work with the business community on projects crucial to expanding the area’s economic opportunity and capacity.
Among the overall objectives for the positions is implementing measures in Sherbrooke’s tourism-targeted Streetscapes Plan, announced a year ago with $45,000 in joint funding from the N.S. Department of Municipal Affairs and the Government of Canada’s Innovative Communities Fund. Macdonald says that also includes “working with Sherbrooke Village and the new Guysborough County Tourism group to help generate new activity.”
The new positions could even lend administrative support to a new business association in the St. Mary’s area, provided there’s a sufficient level of private-sector interest. “The push would have to come from businesses, not the municipality,” MacDonald says. “Nevertheless, we fully back the idea.”
In fact, local area businesses attempted an association five years ago. Despite initial enthusiasm, momentum slowed due, in part, to a lack of municipal support and services. “There has to be the administrative assistance to help take care of things the rest of us, who are running businesses, don’t have time to do,” says Leigh McFarlane, founder and owner of The Soap Company of Nova Scotia, located near Port Hilford. “Other than that, a new association is a good idea. There needs to be something that provides businesses here with a common voice.”
Whether it’s providing administrative assistance to existing businesses or building out the framework for attracting and retaining new ones, MacDonald agrees the area needs fresh economic development talent. “Right now, we’re sort of doing this work off the corner of our desks,” he says.