City council unanimously endorses Peterborough’s new economic development and tourism plan

With Peterborough & the Kawarthas Economic Development dissolving at end of year, city will take services in-house for the first time in over 25 years

Jasbir Raina, CAO of the City of Peterborough, responds to questions from councillors during city council's general committee meeting on June 17, 2024 about a staff report proposing a new economic development and tourism model for the city. (kawarthaNOW screenshot of City of Peterborough video)
Jasbir Raina, CAO of the City of Peterborough, responds to questions from councillors during city council's general committee meeting on June 17, 2024 about a staff report proposing a new economic development and tourism model for the city. (kawarthaNOW screenshot of City of Peterborough video)

Peterborough city council has unanimously voted to endorse a staff report that would see the city bring economic development and tourism services in-house for the first time in over 25 years, with Peterborough & the Kawarthas Economic Development (PKED) dissolving at the end of the year.

Both the city and county of Peterborough decided not to renew a multi-year tri-party agreement to fund PKED to provide economic development and tourism services on behalf of both municipalities. With the city having provided most of PKED’s core funding, the not-for-profit organization announced that it would be dissolving when the existing agreement expires on December 31.

The city’s decision not to renew the agreement stems from a closed session of city council held last June, when council unanimously approved giving city staff “a series of directions relating to alternatives for the delivery of economic development services.”

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Meeting as general committee on Monday evening (June 17), councillors asked questions of city CAO Jasbir Raina about the proposed plan, which would see the city establish a new economic development services division as well as create “Experience Peterborough” branding for tourism promotion and marketing, with three city divisions supporting tourism functions.

In response to a question from councillor Don Vassiliadis, Raina said the division would be initially be located at city hall but the city would explore the “best location,” potentially including “that building which currently exists” — presumably a reference to PKED’s current location at Venture North in downtown Peterborough, which also houses other economic development organizations including Community Futures Peterborough, the Innovation Cluster, and the Peterborough Downtown Business Improvement Area (DBIA).

Raina also revealed that Community Futures Peterborough would be assuming initial responsibility for PKED’s Business Advisory Centre, a largely provincially funded operation that provides support and resources for small businesses.

“Currently, because also provincial funding is involved in this, we have committed to (the Ontario government) that we will be doing this service through the Community Futures,” Raina said, adding that the service would eventually be brought in-house.

While Mayor Jeff Leal had no questions of Raina, he made several comments to council.

Leal said he met last Friday “with the 10 largest locally owned businesses in our community” and was “extremely frank with them that we’re about to hit the wall,” noting the Peterborough has the lowest gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate in Ontario and an assessment base that is 80 per cent residential and 20 per cent commercial/industrial.

The mayor said that whoever is hired at the city’s new economic development director should be given a target to raise the city’s commercial and industrial assessment base by 10 per cent, from 20 per cent to 30 per cent, and to increase the city’s GDP growth rate from 15 per cent to 30 per cent.

“I believe the director’s compensation should be tiered compensation — 75 per cent of it should be fixed (and) 25 per cent of it should be based on performance, bringing new businesses to the community and expanding local businesses that are already here,” Leal said.

Leal added the city needs “closer collaboration” with organizations such as the Peterborough DBIA and the Innovation Cluster, as well as with Trent University and Fleming College, and pointed out the city has never had a marketing plan for the Peterborough Airport.

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The mayor showed council a copy of a recent edition of the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) magazine and issued what appeared to be a veiled criticism of PKED.

“You would have thought that somebody would have had the initiative to have a story front and centre about The Canadian Canoe Museum,” he said. “Isn’t that one of the great destinations that we want here in Ontario and Canada? I’m not a marketing guy but it seems to me that would be a pretty elementary thing to do, to get your story in a magazine that is probably on more kitchen tables than any other magazine that we have here.”

It should be noted that the May opening of the new Canadian Canoe Museum was not only featured in The Globe and Mail — Canada’s most widely read newspaper — but the museum was also named as one of the best cultural spots in the world by National Geographic magazine. In addition, Mayor Leal attended a May 15 event organized by PKED where Water Ways, a Canadian-made television show for boating enthusiasts, named Peterborough and the Kawarthas as the inaugural winner of its “destination of the year award” for both the opening of the new museum as well as the opening of international houseboat rental company Le Boat’s new base on the Otonabee River.

“This is probably the most important decision that we are going to be making, because we can’t do the things we want to do unless we have the dollars to make that happen,” Leal said, referring to the city’s decision to take on economic development and tourism. “So we got to pick an A team — we got to pick an A team that can get and deliver that message far and wide.”

Leal then shared an anecdote about George Hees, a businessman and minister for trade and commerce in John Diefenbaker’s government in the 1960s, who had a business card with the acronym Y.C.D.B.S.O.Y.A.

“You can’t do business sitting on your ass,” Leal said, spelling out the acronym. “That’s the message we got to give to our economic development agency.”

In response to a question from councillor Keith Riel, Raina said the city’s new economic development positions jobs will be posted, interviews will be held, “and we will pick the best candidate who comes with a vision to move us forward.”

As for tourism, Raina said there’s a possibility of existing staff in the three city divisions that will be responsible for tourism — arts and culture, recreation and park services, and strategic communications and Service Peterborough — filling the required positions.

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In assuming responsibility for economic development, Riel said, the city has “taken a giant step forward” in bringing jobs to the city of Peterborough.

“It’s a little heartbreaking for some people, but it was necessary to do it and I think we are on the cusp of doing some great things here,” Riel said, adding that councillors should be “ashamed” by the mayor’s “stunning remarks” that Peterborough has the lowest GDP in Ontario. “We were the paramount city for industry for years.”

It should be noted that, according to Statistics Canada, Peterborough’s low GDP is nothing new — it has consistently been among the lowest in Ontario census metropolitan areas for at least the past two decades.

Councillor Alex Bierk expressed some concerns with the “bureaucracy of the city” making decisions without sufficiently consulting with small businesses, particularly in the downtown. He also has expressed concerns with the proposed tourism branding.

“I don’t like the name Experience Peterborough,” Bierk said. “I think that the titling of this division, and in some ways the structure of it, should be decided by the subject matter expert that we hire — the new director. I don’t want us to be set in stone with this idea Experience Peterborough. To me, it sounds old fashioned, and it should be built by the new director that’s going to come in collaboration with business.”

After noting the staff report states there was consultation with businesses and the broader community, Bierk asked Raina “How was that done and who were those people?”

In response, Raina said the bureaucracy does not make decisions, but follows the direction of council. He also said that Experience Peterborough will not be part of the new economic development division.

“Experience Peterborough is out of economic development — that’s the part of tourism,” Raina said. “Marketing, sponsorship, and tourism will become Experience Peterborough. Economic development will be a single-source entity, because they have better things to do.”

Raina did not answer Bierk’s question about who was consulted, although he said there would be “extensive engagement” on tourism with outside organizations such as the Peterborough and Kawarthas Chamber of Commerce.

Bierk also asked for clarification of the 2025 budget for economic development and tourism, which the report states would be the same amount the city provided to PKED in 2024 — just over $1.4 million, which includes $1,015,112 in core funding plus an estimated $425,000 in municipal accommodation tax.

“By bringing this in-house, are we going to find efficiencies because we’re doing it in-house?” Bierk asked.

“Currently there are 17 people (at PKED), so we are starting with the three (in the new economic development division), so definitely there are efficiencies,” Raina said.

It should be noted that PKED currently has 12 full-time staff positions, with students hired during the summer, to support economic development and tourism in both the city and county of Peterborough. A media release from the City of Peterborough issued last Thursday (June 13) stated that there would be a total of 10.5 staff positions to support economic development and tourism within the City of Peterborough under the proposed plan.

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In his comments, councillor Dave Haacke spoke about the “20-year cycle” where businesses and municipalities run services in-house and then contract out to external agencies before taking operations back in-house, referring to the fact the City of Peterborough was responsible for economic development prior to the founding of PKED in 1998 as the Greater Peterborough Area Development Corporation.

He then pointed out that the biggest obstacle to economic development in Peterborough is the absence of commercial and industrial land.

“You can’t build a city without land — that’s what we’re missing,” Haacke said. “Not only land; its location.”

“I don’t think it’s a solution by itself, having (economic development) in-house,” he added. “Somebody can show me that I’m wrong, but without the land, without the location — that is the biggest impediment I believe that we have.”

“Maybe it’s better having it in-house, but I’ll bet you we’re sitting here a year from now without land experiencing the exact same plight that we’ve got. We can shuffle the chairs — I’m not going to say Titanic — but in the end does it change anything? That’s what I’m not sure of. I don’t think that it will. I think our hearts are in the right place, for sure — we want the same thing.”

“To councillor Crowley’s remarks, I think Rhonda (Keenan) and the group at PKED deserve a big round of applause,” Haacke said, referring to earlier comments by councillor Matt Crowley’s comments thanking PKED for their work. “They were frustrated too with land.”

Haacke also said that red tape is an issue in economic development.

In response to Haacke’s comments, Mayor Leal suggested a councillor be designated to look at red tape that is hindering development.

In response to comments from councillors Bierk and Kevin Duguay regarding economic development downtown, the mayor said he believed there would be unanimous council approval “when we bring forward the concept of a $200-million new entertainment sports centre for the downtown.”

General committee voted 11-0 to endorse the staff report. Items endorsed by general committee will be considered by council for final approval on Monday (June 24) where public delegations will be heard.