Economic uncertainty hit Smooth Rock Falls in 2006 when Tembec permanently closed its pulp mill. But more than a decade later, a number of new incentives are promising to invigorate the small town of 1,330 north of Timmins.
In 2014, the town established a 20-year official plan, which includes a community improvement plan and a new marketing strategy designed to attract new business and residents to the community.
That strategy, which markets the town as ‘Near North, near perfect,’ was completed and launched this past September, and with it, the town announced some striking incentives for newcomers, including inexpensive land, tax breaks, and business loans.
The approach gained national attention, resulting in “hundreds and hundreds of inquiries” from people interested in living, working, and conducting business in the town, said Luc Denault, the community’s CAO and director of economic development.
“We’re quite humbled and appreciative of all the interest,” Denault said. “Certainly we expected some uptake, but not to the level that we’ve been receiving and continue to receive.”
It’s not hard to see why. Among the incentives are land packages for 90 per cent below market value; 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 town initially released 13 serviced residential lots for purchase, and a Toronto businessman, Roman Bodnarchuk, purchased them all with the intention of building homes on them.
But still more interest came in, so the town released a second round of residential, commercial and rural properties. The closing date for that sale was Jan. 15.
Denault believes that, while the incentives will initially attract newcomers to the community, it will be its affordability, slower pace, speedy access to key services, and quality of life that will convince people to stay.
Its natural attributes allow residents to enjoy outdoor pleasures such as cross-country skiing, ATVs, or snowmobiling, while essential services like emergency medicine are accessible within 10 minutes, Denault said.
“We believe it’s a great place for people to retire, and it’s a great place for young families to come and live and work,” he said.
“Forty per cent of the community is commuting, so we believe that there’s an opportunity there for people to enjoy quality of living at an affordable price, while having all the services that you need.”
It was a bold move for the community located along the Highway 11 corridor, roughly halfway between Kapuskasing and Cochrane. But already it seems to be paying off.
The town is in discussion with a number of parties interested in making commercial investments, but it’s still too early to disclose any details, Denault said. Still, he believes if some of these opportunities come through, they will result in job creation for the community.
“We’re not necessarily chasing smokestacks, but if one were to fall in our lap tomorrow morning, we would not say no,” Denault said.
“We realize we’re looking for a variety of small to medium-sized businesses that grow over time. Every business that we have open in Smooth Rock Falls would be beneficial.”
Denault said the town finally got through its backlog of inquiries just before Christmas, and next up, it will make available for sale town-owned waterfront property. There are also private properties listed on the town’s website (www.smoothrockfalls.ca), and so there are plenty of opportunities for interested parties to invest, he noted.
One such opportunity became available on Jan. 12, when the town issued a request for proposals for a seniors housing project, something it’s been looking into for some time, Denault said.
With its strategic plan well underway, Denault said the community is optimistic that it’s finally making some progress, and encouraged about the new possibilities coming its way.
“We’re all kind of going on the same trip and achieving various destination points or milestones,” Denault said.
“Over time, we’re seeing gradual, positive and beneficial outcomes, and we look forward to seeing what the future may hold for us.”