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Region lays out plans for its economic future

By Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express

The Region of Durham is laying out its plans to make the area a top spot for investment and to do business.

The 2017-2021 Economic Development Strategy and Action Plan, now approved by regional council, lays out plans on how to make Durham an economic powerhouse in North America. The plan lays out six areas where the region will elevate its efforts: agri-business; energy, environment and engineering (EN3); health sciences; innovative technology; manufacturing; and tourism, with plans to boost those segments by supporting business growth, developing an enhanced economic base, work to build the regional talent pool and sell Durham to the world.

Although the plan was overwhelmingly approved, some councillors said the region is taking the wrong path when it comes to encouraging businesses to set up shop in the region.

“I do not believe that our regional revitalization plan is as robust and dynamic as it could be. I do not feel it is coordinated with (community improvement projects) that exist in several area municipalities, I do not believe that it fully encourages and implements non-residential growth in the Region of Durham which is, frankly, anaemic,” Ajax Mayor Steve Parish said.

“Residential developers in Durham Region have a clear path, they know the rules. But it is the more challenging area of non-residential growth that needs all the incentives that we have. We’re in a highly competitive market that’s about to become more competitive because of the genius who is now the president of the United States.”

Clarington Councillor Joe Neal, meanwhile, says that rather than pushing potential investors in the region to hand over money to build, the region should be the ones extending an open hand.

“I think we’re missing out when we impose industrial development charges on companies that want to open up manufacturing. I think it’s counterproductive. What I heard was our industrial development charges are comparable to other areas in Ontario. But what that forgets is that our competitors are also in the U.S.,” he said.

“There’s states in the U.S. that have incentives – not only do they not present you with a bill, they also provide you with free tax incentives for 10 years. Especially with what’s going on down south, talking about cutting corporate tax rates, personal income tax rates, what’s going to happen to NAFTA…I think there’s big challenges coming forward for Ontario and Durham Region, and if we keep expecting that companies are going to pay these industrial development charges, we’re just fooling ourselves a bit on that one.”

Whitby Mayor Don Mitchell, meanwhile, says that the region’s economic prospects are being hurt by the fact that much of the land slated for non-residential development is not properly serviced.

“At the heart of our challenge in Whitby is the lack of serviced employment lands, period. There are opportunities…coming our way, and we just got nothing on the wagon,” he says.

“I think we really need to look at the product we have, because people are looking around Durham, they’re looking around Whitby, but…we almost have an empty wagon in Whitby if I can put it that way. Lots of land, but no serviced land.”

As part of the new plan, there will now be annual reports detailing the progress of any new initiatives and economic activity levels, and more.