Luc Denault is seeing a lot more new faces in Smooth Rock Falls these days, which is bringing a smile to his.
A year ago, when the community, located just north of Timmins, announced a suite of incentives designed to entice new residents to town, nobody really knew what the response would be.
Denault, the town’s CAO and economic development director, was hopeful, but he hadn’t expected the thousands of inquiries that arrived from across Canada, resulting in new families moving in, a flurry of real estate sales, and the promise of new business.
“We were quite ecstatic once we had time to sit down and review and assess the outcome one year later,” Denault said. “We're certainly surprised but pleased with the results.”
Included in that plan were incentives such as land packages for 90 per cent below market value, some as cheap as $500; generous tax breaks for homeowners over three years; grants for business owners of up to 15 per cent of eligible costs; loan guarantees for construction projects for up to 50 per cent of construction costs; and a tax increment grant program for businesses.
The marketing scheme was part of a detailed 20-year strategic plan designed to rejuvenate the town of 1,330, which had dipped into economic uncertainty after Tembec permanently closed its pulp mill in 2006.
To date, 24 new families have relocated to Smooth Rock Falls, and one family has returned. A total of 49 properties have changed ownership, with a value of $3.5 million in real estate sales. Of those deals, six are commercial, three of which are tied to the establishment of new businesses.
“The process of converting a query of interest in Smooth Rock Falls to moving to town and opening a new business takes months and often years,” Smooth Rock Mayor Michel Arseneault said in a town-issued press release.
“We’re taking our time and doing our due diligence; we want to make sure both the individual or business and Smooth Rock Falls will benefit. We’re excited about some of the current prospects and look forward to sharing more information in coming months when details have been finalized.”
Denault said a quick, unofficial survey of new residents show they’ve found work in town and with nearby employers, such as the hospital, Ontario Power Generation, Detour Gold, and area pulp and paper mills. One young couple has relocated from southern Ontario, establishing property management and general maintenance businesses.
One early deal – in which a Toronto businessman bought up 13 lots for residential development – didn’t work out, Denault said. But the town isn’t deterred.
“We feel we're still in a very strong position, and so some of the lots have been re-released as part of this, and we're already seeing some considerable inquiries from interested parties,” Denault said.
“So we feel very confident. We learn from it; some things work out, some don't, and we just keep moving forward.”
After securing 28 acres of former Tembec mill land, the town is now planning to develop an industrial park with 12 serviced lots. It’s currently in the process of releasing a request for proposals (RFP) to find an engineer for the project, and Denault expects shovels to be in the ground in 2019.
He suggests the lots would be ideal for a plumbing and heating shop or a small construction company. There’s even a 5,000-square-foot building already on site for someone to come in and set up a turnkey operation.
“We’re excited about that because with jobs, it means more people in Smooth Rock Falls,” Denault said. “It means more activity.”
Also in the works is a plan to develop affordable seniors’ housing units, flagged as a high-priority item. Denault hopes to have applications in to funding agencies in early 2019, with the aim of starting development shortly after.
After the initial flood of interest came in, Denault said the town’s eyes were opened to a whole range of possibilities it hadn’t considered. Now, a handful of other business cases are in the prefeasibility stage to determine what other opportunities may be possible.
Meanwhile, Denault said the town still receives two to three inquiries a day, and the town has added another person to its economic development office to help address all the interest.
“Gradually, the community will grow and the economic multipliers will come into play, so we continue to be open for business,” Denault said. “We may not have all the answers and we may not be perfect with everything, but we're willing to listen, to learn, and course correct.”