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Invest North Bay 'a squandered opportunity' says former board member

Former Invest North Bay board member speaks out, calling out the degree of secrecy it operated under 'absurd.'
20180724 north bay city hall sign turl
(Jeff Turl, BayToday photo)

A former board member with Invest North Bay is speaking out, calling the failed effort "a squandered opportunity" and the degree of secrecy it operated under "completely unnecessary."

Larry Fuld is a consultant with the North Bay & District Northern Ontario Angels. He said Invest North Bay was conceived as a way to engage and get advice from private citizens.

The majority of that group, however, became disenchanted with the way the organization was being run and ended up quitting.

"All offers to help were rebuffed," Fuld told BayToday. "Some ideas were referred to as 'preposterous' although they have proven successful in other more progressive places."

Invest North Bay (INBAY) was supposed to create an environment that supports long-term economic and community growth by attracting new business to the city, according to its website.

Failure to document any success toward that goal, lack of transparency, mismanagement, and charges of conflict of interest over its five-year history led to its impending demise, to be replaced by an economic advisory board.

"We had a chance to really build an entrepreneurial ecosystem," said Fuld.

Fuld points to North Bay's main competitor for new business in the north, Sudbury, as an example of a way to leverage their own version of INBAY. It was announced last week that downtown Sudbury will soon be home to a new business incubator, which is estimated to spin off 60 jobs over the next three years. 

FedNor announced on May 27 it's providing the Greater Sudbury Development Corporation with $631,920 to roll out the three-year project.

"Sudbury contributes $1,000,000 to their INBAY and has a $5-million Catalyst fund, with municipal participation, and $3 million from FedNor, said Fuld.

"Their INBAY led the way for 600k in FedNor funding for an incubator. We have been trying for several years to get one.

"I work every day with young companies and investors. We cannot compete with what Sudbury has done. The businesses go where the resources are."

One of the bright spots has been the willingness of some former members of INBAY to form a virtual accelerator, details of which will be announced soon.

Fuld also slams INBAY's level of secrecy, calling it "absurd."

"There are no secrets, the real secret is how little we were able to accomplish. We didn’t even have our own chequebook.” 

North Bay was named the most secretive municipal government in Canada this year by an investigative journalist's group.

Fuld calls the abandoned TWG $1.2 million marketing effort "disappointing."

The board opted to cut the contract, and the outstanding balance still remains in dispute, although money has apparently been set aside to settle with TWG.

According to board chair Dave Mendicino, Invest North Bay is sitting on an $800,000 surplus which will be distributed by City Council.

Mayor Al McDonald faced harsh criticism for voting to award TWG the contract, as the company's co-owner Bill Ferguson served as McDonald's campaign manager for the past three mayoral election campaigns.

"There were lots of other board members that had no relationship with the firm, they should have been the selection committee," says Fuld. "So much opportunity here, but so much dysfunction between local politicians and private citizens," said the former board member.

But Fuld also has a complaint about social media commenters that attacked the organization.

"Private citizens that wish to criticize need to use their real name, stop hiding. If you want to call me dishonest have the nerve to use your name."

He claims that members quit the board over lack of city support "when private members are libeled in the press."

"If you want talented people to be engaged, you can't accuse them all of being crooks," he added in frustration.

- BayToday