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Council approves third-party review of the city's economic development activities

The last time a third-party review was suggested, an $80,000 price tag put an end to the conversation
20141201 Christian Provenzano KA
FILE PHOTO: Mayor Christian Provenzano. Kenneth Armstrong/SooToday

City council has instructed city staff to move forward with a review to assess the city’s economic activities.

The motion, which passed during last night’s city council meeting, was put forth by Mayor Christian Provenzano and seeks recommendations on what the city should be doing to get the most from its $2.5 million in economic development spending.

Each year, the city funds economic development in three ways — $1.7-million to the Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corporation, $277,890 to the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre and $500,000 to the Economic Development Fund.

Ward 1 Councillor Paul Christian said he doesn’t see the review as a finger-pointing exercise, but noted the Sault is in competition with the rest of the world.

“The fact is we are not diversified enough,” said Christian.

He added, “Essar Steel needs to be a part of our community, but it certainly can’t be the entire lifeblood of this community.”

CAO Albert Horsman said the city will seek a third-party review and that all groups will be represented and he expects to return to council with recommendations by the summer.

Frank Fata, Ward 5 councillor, said the last time a third-party review was suggested, an $80,000 price tag put an end to the conversation.

“It seemed to turn a few of us off, because we were going to study something to see if something was viable to continue, having the EDC in its current state,” said Fata.

An assessment of the EDC was last conducted in 2008, but Provenzano said this new motion will be broader, and include the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre (IC) and Economic Development Fund (EDF) and ask if the almost $2.5-million the city uses to fund those agencies is being put to good use.

“No money will be spent on [the review] until this council approves the retaining of someone to do it,” said Provenzano.

Previously, Provenzano had cited the EDC's January 2015 purchase of Searchmont Resort for $700,000 — along with an additional $700,000 in unpaid bills — as a reason he was considering the relationship between the City and EDC and said he was concerned about the amount of time spent by EDC staff on the effort to save the ACR passenger rail service.

After the short discussion, the motion passed.

Councillors Steve Butland and Lou Turco voted against the motion. Ross Romano and Susan Myers were not present for the vote on this motion.