Since North Bay received the Baylor Report in June, complete with recommendations on how to improve the city and its prospects, work has been steadily underway as the city and its economic development arm tick off the boxes one by one. But for George Burton, progress still isn’t happening fast enough.
“We’re a very impatient group and things never happen as quickly as you’d like, but it’s important that we have the foundation correct,” said Burton, president at Canadore College and chair of the Invest North Bay economic development group.
“And we’re dealing in an area that’s highly competitive; there’s not a community in North America or in the world who doesn’t want job creation.”
The Baylor Report emerged from an eight-month research process undertaken by MBA students from Texas-based Baylor University as part of its Focus Firm program. North Bay was the first municipality studied by Baylor.
The report outlines a number of recommendations to help North Bay become a thriving, desirable community.
The study has largely been looked upon as a great “gift” from Baylor, and stakeholders are treading carefully to ensure that gift isn’t squandered.
But, Burton said, progress is being made. Goals outlined for the city have been broken up into four categories.
In the “talk” category, the emphasis was on creating better communication with the public. To that end, the city has hired a new communications officer, Jaclyn Bucik, who informs the public through news releases and updates on social media. A tendering process is also underway to revamp the city’s website.
The cornerstone of the “retain” category is a community visioning process, which is currently underway, along with a public consultation on waterfront redevelopment. Burton expects results from that process next spring.
Under the “sell” category, meanwhile, are new management tools and a more coordinated effort in business development. Invest North Bay is seeking out a marketing firm to “help market the city as a place to invest, a place for young entrepreneurs to grow their business, a place to attract entrepreneurs that have great ideas, and how we can support them in doing that,” Burton said. That process is expected to be complete by late fall.
In the final category, “development,” the Baylor report recommended ways to start and scale businesses. A strategic plan for that is also underway, and results should be available this fall, Burton said.
Under this category, the report also suggested an incubator space that would offer startups and entrepreneurs space to develop their business ideas. Burton said Invest North Bay is studying a number of models throughout North America to find the right fit for North Bay.
“We’re sorting through what’s really going to be successful given the resources we have, our geography, and the types of businesses we want to actually develop and grow here in the city,” he said. “So that’s a work in progress.”
Though hesitant to comment on the feedback he’s received so far, Burton said it’s clear North Bay’s citizens do want job growth, an especially urgent need in light of recent layoffs by Fabrene and permanent closures of Canada Bread and Kent Trusses, which impacted a combined 160 workers.
“I always try to keep it in context: for every bad news story, we need to create three good news stories, so that those job losses are offset by other opportunities in the city, and that’s what we’re looking to do,” Burton said.
There will always be businesses booming, while others fail, but that’s the nature of a global economy, he added.
An appetite for change is the most important ingredient for success, he noted, something North Bay has in spades.
“North Bay has most, if not all, the elements to be successful; it’s a matter of harnessing the potential and getting it moving in a single direction, and I think we’re well on our way to doing that,” Burton said.
“But, again, it’s going to take a consistent effort and it’s going to take the efforts of all our citizens to make this city prosper.”