This week the Region will be considering a 10 Year Economic Development Strategy facilitated by our economic development team in collaboration with Niagara’s municipal economic development partners. The plan is timely in that it is being developed as we are emerging from a worldwide pandemic that has left us facing challenges with respect to low labour force participation, a struggling service based sector, a lack of affordable housing, access to broadband internet and supply chain disruptions.
Economic development is actually a shared responsibility between both the lower tier municipalities and the Region. Hence there is a clear articulation of responsibilities between the two with the Region having a mandate for investment attraction, external marketing, expedited service and business development, research and analysis and strategic initiatives for projects with a Region-wide scope.
The plan proposes continued support for key economic sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing, tourism and professional services. But it also highlighted opportunities for Niagara’s economy due to growth in emerging sectors such as health care, the film industry, marine, sport tourism and electric vehicles. This strategy deserves some exploration to see why they’ve emerged as areas for targeting.
Nothing can quite escalate and amplify the importance of health care servicing like a global pandemic! However the new South Niagara Hospital and redevelopment of the West Lincoln Memorial Hospital will result in the replacement of older infrastructure with new high tech facilities, greater specialization and better connectivity for all of our residents. As these facilities are being constructed, there’s potential to emphasize local supply and local businesses to help support these projects. Overall we should see some significant changes to health care servicing that will enhance these important services with completion of these facilities.
Niagara has also seen interest from the film sector in terms of our unique locations. We currently have over 250 businesses in this sector and have experienced a recent increase in jobs. Marketing Niagara’s film potential could have an economic spillover effect that results in the hiring of local people, services and generates some service fees to municipalities.
Most of us drive over the Welland Canal without giving it a second thought. But did you know it generates significant revenue across Niagara and supports over 50 businesses and 2400 jobs? The provincial government has confirmed it will be developing a marine strategy, thanks to local advocacy efforts, to help support this sector’s competitiveness. Locally, there has already been movement towards a “Niagara Ports” plan to create multimodal hubs along the canal that can generate further economic spillovers.
This August we’ll finally see the Canada Games in action. The Region has been a key partner in supporting the games and with it came an investment in significant infrastructure around athletic and gaming facilities (such as the Canada Games park). These facilities will leave a legacy for Niagara that will allow us to attract, organize and run large sporting events in the future but also provide active living, organized sports, active recreation, and health and wellness experiences locally.
Finally, significant investment has been made by the Province and private companies in positioning Ontario’s economy to benefit from a shift to electric vehicles. Niagara has a strong base of manufacturing businesses that are well positioned to participate and benefit from the emergence of technology and advanced manufacturing processes in this space. Upgrades to larger automotive plants across Niagara could generate business and innovation locally, leading to specialized jobs.
A commitment has been made to incorporate principles of diversity, equity and inclusion throughout the plan and actioning the outcomes to ensure we’re creating the conditions for an equitable and inclusive community. They’ve also identified that support is needed to ensure we can match jobs with the needs of businesses, but also have an eye towards sustainability and aligning our work with climate change policies at all levels of government.
There certainly is a lot of exciting things happening in and around Niagara. We’ve already seen some of the anticipated population growth happening locally across the Region and right here in Pelham. With approval of the strategy will come collaboration and engagement with municipal partners, businesses, support agencies and educational institutions. The strategy presents a focus for capitalizing on some of the opportunities for growth while leveraging existing assets and resources that are unique to Niagara.