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Business plans to lead economic development in county

UPPER NAPPAN – A group of Cumberland County business leaders wants to work toward establishing an economic development body in the county to promote and foster economic growth across the region.

Business leaders from across Cumberland County want to work together to establish a new development body to foster economic growth across the region. It’s one of the projects that came out of a one-day brainstorming session in Amherst last month. Cumberland Community Life provided an update on that meeting’s progress on Wednesday.

This comes as both the Municipality of Cumberland and the Town of Amherst have announced they will not be part of the regional enterprise network that was proposed last year for northern Nova Scotia.

“In many cases we have a tendency to look to government when there is a need. That has to stop,” Cumberland Community Life member Sue McIsaac said. “If things are going to change business has to do it instead of trying to fit it into a box so government can do it.”

CCL is going to continue working several projects identified during a one-day meeting at PolyCello last month and introduced during an update session at the E.D. Fullerton Municipal Building in Upper Nappan on Wednesday.

“There is a commitment from us as a group to work with all levels of government to set up a Cumberland County version of the REN,” McIsaac said. “It’s not something we want to lead ourselves, but it’s something we want to steer toward setting up.”

Business taking a leadership role in the economic growth of the county was one of the main things to come out of a one-day session hosted at PolyCello in March that included approximately 40 business leaders.

The group, made up of several business leaders, has been meeting informally on a weekly basis since the release of the One Nova Scotia report. The March gathering at PolyCello was a collaborative effort between the group, the town, the county and Engage Nova Scotia.

The objective of that meeting was to inspire business leaders to take action to shape their economic future, identify key factors to the success of that future and obtain a commitment from participants to work toward that future.

The group has also held meetings with key stakeholders including MLA Terry Farrell, business leader John Bragg and MP Scott Armstrong to discuss possible areas for development need and opportunity.

Among the projects created at the one-day meeting included developing a recruitment and retention strategy for immigrants and establish a local multi-cultural organization.

Group member Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin said the meeting also suggested developing a Cumberland County inventory of available and underutilized assets and infrastructure, preparing a promotional package for potential new businesses, focusing on the renewable energy sector and developing an organization like the former industrial commission whose purpose will be the attract new industry.

It also suggested taking advantage of the area’s central location for the distribution of goods and working more closely with the Port of Halifax, attracting a developer to establish a conference facility and creating a communications plan that encourages the attitude that Cumberland County is open for business.

Other projects include developing a skills inventory and working with Mount Allison and NSCC to develop entrepreneurial students willing to take risks on new business, creating a mentorship program to strengthen small business, matching local needs with local products, developing a system to identify goods and services not available locally and doing more collective marketing and promotion.

Another project is developing a non-partisan lobby group to reduce barriers. Specific goals of this lobby group would be to work toward eliminating the toll on the Cobequid Pass, reducing workers compensation and electricity rates, ensuring a competitive tax environment and asking for amendments to the Municipal Government Act so municipal units could offer tax incentives to attract new business.

Smith-McCrossin said business can’t wait for government to complete this work on its own.

“We can’t wait for things to change. We, as business leaders, have to step up to the plate and be the catalyst to that change. We need to work together because by doing so we can overcome some of those obstacles and achieve our goals.”

Farrell, who attended Wednesday’s update, said he is very impressed with the group’s work saying the business community has touched on many of issues addressed in the One Nova Scotia report. He said the group is not prepared to let the report gather dust sitting on a shelf and he praised the initiative as a good beginning.

Several CCL members expressed optimism at the progress that has already been made saying the timing is right, while everyone who participated came out with a greater understanding of others businesses and the challenges and opportunities out there.

Twitter: @ADNdarrell

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