Cobourg Council hears economic-development update

By Cecilia Nasmith

Cobourg economic-development officer Wendy Gibson and manufacturing and attraction specialist TJ Flynn gave council good news Monday as they presented an update on that particular portfolio.

Gibson categorized the presentation under the headings that are their primary areas of focus, such as the new Venture 13 innovation-and-entrepreneurship centre.

Since opening in May, she said, it's been a continuing success story, accounting for 21 new businesses, 66 new jobs, $2.7-million in wages generated, and 171 special events and activities that have drawn more than 4,100 visitors.

“I could not be prouder of the accomplishments I have seen in my short months at Venture 13,” said Gibson, whose office was relocated to the facility at 750 D'Arcy St.

Downtown revitalization initiatives include the Community Improvement Program, which has made 25 restoration projects possible (most of them on the main street). For every $1 spent in this program, Gibson said, the private sector spends $4.

Manufacturing attraction has caught fire recently, with three companies buying land in the Lucas Point Industrial Park, representing businesses that will be hiring as many as 50 people. As a bonus, she said, 2018 saw the town retaining all its existing industries (and some of them increasing their staffing).

Gibson credits proactive outreach as one of the keys to attraction and retention, and the numbers are promising. For instance, for the period covering 2015 to 2018, manufacturing jobs increased from 1,872 to 2,078. As many as 50% of local industries are hiring, but this brought her to such future challenges as workforce development.

There's also a shortage of shovel-ready greenfield sites (of the 49 acres at Lucas Point, only 14 are shovel-ready), and only four industrial buildings.

“I have never seen such a shortage of industrial space in Cobourg,” Gibson stated.

“It shows a healthy industrial activity but, at the same time, leaves us with few options for growth.”

On the other hand, she is optimistic about the young entrepreneurs she is seeing at Venture 13.

“My vision is to see a cluster of them in the downtown. My goal is seeing those second storeys fill up,” she said.

“They are looking for cool, different spaces. They don't just operate in your typical office space.”

Gibson urged council not to forget that existing businesses account for fully 76% of new investment and that 82% of Cobourg businesses have 10 or fewer employees.

“Small businesses are our bread and butter here in Cobourg, and we should respond to these small businesses.”