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New NOHFC programming targets Growth Plan sectors

Contractors and homebuilders say NIMBYism is getting to be a problem in Sudbury.
The Northern Ontario Heritage Fund has introduced new funding programming that will mirror the growing and emerging sectors identified in the Growth Plan for Northern Ontario.

Contractors and homebuilders say NIMBYism is getting to be a problem in Sudbury. 

Three organizations—the Sudbury Chamber of Commerce, Sudbury & District Homebuilders and the Sudbury Construction Association—say the Not In My Backyard syndrome is causing a problem with project delays and increasing costs for developers.

The Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation (NOHFC) launched a new fleet of programs this fall to stimulate regional development and employment opportunities under the province's Growth Plan for Northern Ontario.

The 25-year-old provincial funding agency introduced five programs built around strategic economic infrastructure, community capacity building, innovation, small business start-ups and internships of post-secondary graduates.

“In putting these programs together,” said NOHFC executive director Bruce Strapp, “we kept the best, we got some new stuff and shredded what wasn’t performing well on the job creation front and diversification strategies.”

Armed with a $100-million annual fund, Strapp said the new programming is geared to supporting municipalities, not-for-profits and First Nations, but also specifically targets successful and emerging industry and business sectors.

Among those sectors identified include: advanced manufacturing, agriculture, arts and culture, the digital economy, value-added forestry, health sciences, mineral supply, renewable energy, tourism, transportation and water technologies.

During their entire program review, Strapp said there was a huge feedback from Northern stakeholders, including from municipalities dealing with infrastructure challenges.

“We couldn’t take over the responsibility of bridges, roads, sewer and water projects,” said Strapp. Instead, they've concentrated on providing su pport on the master planning aspects.

“We’ve stayed focused on the strategic infrastructure; those things that lead to an industry or commercial development whether its airport, waterfront, industrial park or commercial artery sewer or water that leads to where commercial or industrial development will happen.”

A big emphasis was placed on assisting First Nations with community capacity building.

As a former development czar in Red Lake, Timmins and Sault Ste, Marie; Strapp said this is his favourite program. Instead of handing out money for municipalities and organizations to hire a consultant to study a regional project, that expertise can be developed in-house.

“If I create 30 to 50 new economic development interns every year working for First Nations and municipalities, we're going to create the abilty for us to write our own studies and have the municipalities do them internally.”

On the innovation front, Strapp wants NOHFC involved at the pre-commercialization stage in sectors like advanced manufacturing to help organizations and entrepreneurs defray costs for testing prototypes and intellectual property protection. In the past, Strapp said there weren't many applications demonstrating strong partnerships between the private and public sector.

“What trying to do get more private applications aligned with the colleges, universities and innovation centres to help create intellectual property and prototype development.”

NOHFC has also introduced a program for event partnerships.

Strapp said the agency will partner with organizations that stage major tourism or regional events that promote business engagement and economic development such as an awards show or a chamber of commerce annual event.

In one case, Sault Ste. Marie attracted an international hockey tournament that brought in $10 million in community spinoffs. NOHFC provided $100,000 for support infrastructure.

New programming for film and television projects is geared toward encouraging production companies to spend more money in the North.

“We're looking to increase the impacts on having more production facilties here in the North.” Strapp said when NOHFC first dived into film, there was only an incentive program for companies to shoot in the North, but ultimately the goal is to create new business lines and college programs.

“You'll hear the word 'economic diversity' quite a bit,” said Strapp in summing up the evolution of NOHFC programs.

“Previously, we were dealing with transformations. The entrepreneurship programs came about because many mills were shutting down. We created that program to support individuals that may consider starting up ventures versus going to the (Alberta) oilsands.”

“In some areas, it was effective and the program got bigger across Northern Ontario for any type of business, and certainly that was one of the changes we looked at. We feel the transformation strategies are going well for the growth of forestry and mining.”

Strapp said in his travels from the Far North remote communities to Parry Sound, he's developed

a tremendous admiration and respect for the feedback Northerners give him and the pride they display in their projects.

“I don't think there are any major business expansion where NOHFC is not engaged. We appreciate making a difference in Northern Ontario and our stakeholders would certainly like us to do more, but they're pretty understanding of where we're going and we appreciate their support and their applications.”