The role and effectiveness of the Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corporation (EDC) is a topic that comes up for discussion, especially each municipal election year, since the EDC was formed in 1986.
EDC staff members appeared before city council Monday in response to a February council resolution that suggested the possibility some of the work the Corporation does may duplicate that done by City of Sault Ste. Marie staff.
That resolution, moved by councillor Joe Krmpotich and seconded by councillor Frank Fata, raised concern about the EDC’s services in accounting, human resources, legal, information technology and communications, services which the resolution stated could be performed by existing city staff.
That resolution also called for a look into the types of economic development services delivered by other northern Ontario cities.
To do that, the EDC asked council Monday for $15,000 from the city's Economic Development Fund (with a matching $15,000 from the EDC itself) for a $30,000 study, to be done by consulting firm Millier Dickinson Blais (MDB).
The study would have been an independent analysis to see if, in fact, there is some duplication of services, along with providing a final conclusion and recommendation.
EDC staffers were concerned council made its February resolution as a late addition to that meeting's agenda without the EDC's knowledge, and suggested council was seemingly unaware that Millier Dickinson Blais had already compiled a consultant's report in 2008 that examined the EDC's role for council and approved of its activities.
After a discussion which took up most of Monday’s lengthy council meeting, council passed a new resolution to drop the idea of another study involving the EDC, while several councillors, Mayor Debbie Amaroso and city CAO Joe Fratesi voiced their support for the EDC’s activities.
Steve Butland, ward one councillor, praised the EDC for many things, including its bringing much-needed call centre jobs to town as Algoma Steel’s staffing levels steadily declined, pointing to Agero as a model call centre.
Two of the four call centres that came to the Sault have since closed.
Butland also said the era of large manufacturers setting up shop in the Sault is over, and that the EDC has excelled in pursuing opportunities for small or mid-sized manufacturers and entrepreneurs.
Susan Myers, ward two councillor and a former EDC employee, insisted there was no duplication of services between the EDC and the city, particularly in the area of communications.
Don Mitchell, the EDC board of directors president, told council the EDC has helped create or maintain 1,200 jobs in the community in recent years.
Mitchell said the city’s financial investment in the EDC has paid off at a rate of three to one in terms of economic activity dollars in Sault Ste. Marie.
The city has set aside $1.6 million for the EDC for 2014.
While Mitchell said there is always room for improvement in the EDCs performance, it is rated as one of the best EDCs in Ontario.
After the EDC matter was put to rest, council approved a $25,000 funding request from the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre (SSMIC).
That money will come from the city's Economic Development Fund and will assist the Innovation Centre host the 2014 Energy Opportunities Conference November 4 to 6, 2014 at Algoma's Water Tower Inn.
The Conference will be an opportunity to bring industry professionals from the energy sector together to collaborate on new energy initiatives while shedding light on the business supports offered in Sault Ste. Marie for energy projects.