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Sault takes new approach to economic development

City cuts $444,656 from EDC budget, but the money will still be used for economic development purposes
20161202 Mayor Christian Provenzano Silhouette KA
'This is a tremendously important decision. It doesn't seem like much on its face but it's a paradigm shift,' says Mayor Christian Provenzano. Kenneth Armstrong/SooToday

The City of Sault Ste. Marie has rejigged its approach to economic development.

Last year, a $75,000 consultant's report commissioned by the city recommended that its two leading economic development organizations — the Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corp. (EDC) and the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre — be amalgamated into one agency.

On July 31, city council voted to cut $444,656 from the EDC's budget, and that money will be used by the city for economic development purposes.

"This is a tremendously important decision," said Mayor Christian Provenzano. "It doesn't seem like much on its face but it's a paradigm shift."

Tom Vair, the city's deputy chief administrative officer for community development and enterprise services, described the $444,656 cut to the EDC's $1,648,822 budget as a "consensus option" approved by both the EDC and Innovation Centre boards.

"Step change is required and we need to act with some urgency, in terms of improving our economic development," Vair told city councillors. "Any actions that we take should result in a stronger and enhanced economic development platform."

Vair is expected to take the lead on behalf of the city in developing recommendations on spending the money taken from the EDC budget.

He's expected to closely follow recent recommendations from the Sault's community adjustment committee, which wants the city to take a more proactive role in community development, including increased emphasis on the arts and culture, health, social services, tourism, energy, film and digital media sectors.

Vair is also expected to look for ways of reducing overlap between agencies on things like human resources, information technology and accounting.

His plan is expected to be presented to city council on Aug. 21.

Now that the 27 per cent cut to the EDC budget has been approved, city staff will start negotiating new memoranda of understanding with the EDC and Innovation Centre, and also commence discussions aimed at finding additional funding sources.

Revised memoranda of understanding amongst the city, the EDC and the Innovation Centre are expected to be approved this fall.