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Mining, tourism, eco-industry top list of priorities (09/03)

By IAN ROSS Think back 20 years ago, says Doug Nadorozny, before the ribbon cutting at Science North.


Think back 20 years ago, says Doug Nadorozny, before the ribbon cutting at Science North. Who would have thought Sudbury would have a tourism industry? “There was nothing,” says Sudbury’s general manager of economic development and planning services, conjuring up images of a one-industry mining town and a charred landscape desecrated by the residual effects of decades of smeltering.

Sudbury’s new Dynamic Earth tourism site.

With steely determination the community rallied, re-greened its sins of the past, and constructed a world-class tourist attraction from the ground up, built on funding and donations from the provincial government, the city, corporate partners such as Inco and thousands of individual patrons.

“There was no Niagara Falls discovered in the bush,” says Nadorozny. “They created an industry that’s now a huge part of our economy. Who wants to say that it isn’t possible in 20 years to have two more industries like that or have tourism twice as big as it is now.”

Identifying where the next growth sector will likely occur is the aim of the city’s long-term growth strategy, a new visionary document in place that identifies five key sectors, or engines, that will drive job creation for the future.

The plan is to maximize their development efforts in the area of mining and supply services, and cultivate a civic culture for the “creative, curious and adventuresome” by promoting Sudbury as a leading tourist destination. The strategy also outlines opportunities to become a leader in health innovation and biotechnology, as well as a model for eco-industry and renewable energy.

As a work in progress for more than a year now, the strategy will identify roles and gaps in each engine, assign steering groups to detail the ongoing activities, projects and players before presenting a working paper on each engine sometime in September, Nadorozny says.

Already Sudbury has several things working in its favour, such as an abundance of fibre-optic capacity and a distinct northern quality of life, but there is room for improvement in city infrastructure with its crumbling road system, he says.

Formulating a well-articulated plan to government only serves to further Sudbury’s chances of obtaining government grants and attracting private-sector investment.

But Nadorozny, a former software developer, is under no illusions that city hall has all the answers.

“There is only one group that does true economic development and that is the private sector. I can’t create a single job...but the public sector has role to play in creating an environment conducive to business and for entrepreneurs wanting to continue to take risks in the community.”

Some local opinion suggests the upcoming November municipal election will be fought over the city’s economic strategy and if the next council lacks vision and stamina, a critical opportunity to lead Sudbury and all of northeastern Ontario out of the wilderness will be lost.

A Sudbury think tank - New Economy Sudbury - wants some form of new collaboration between private sector leaders and city development officials to bring business and government together, working on the same page to foster economic growth.

Paul Zulich, a Sudbury commercial realtor and co-chair of the New Economy group, says while city hall has made “great leaps and bounds” in achieving a measure of economic diversity, the political agendas at Tom Davies Square must be set aside. Forming a business-led economic development organization is a “natural evolution” of what is happening in several revitalized cities, he says.

His group has been studying success stories in Halifax, London, Hamilton and Pittsburgh, Penn., which have turned their economies around with private-sector-led organizations and have experienced “stellar growth.”

“In these cases, it just seems the decision makers are dealing with other decision makers,” says Zulich, whose New Economy group consists of business people, developers, researchers and academics. “Government’s are there to foster growth, not create it.”

After two years of public symposia analysing Sudbury’s socioeconomic situation, they are developing their own action plan built around the cluster approach by promoting the city’s pillars in areas of mining, education, health, life sciences and tourism-retail.

Zulich says his group is working on several different formulas for growth, addressing city infrastructure and creating an environment that is ripe for investment.

Interestingly enough, Zulich says his group’s cluster approach mirrors the city’s long-term growth strategy.

“We have the same strategic plan. Their economic engines are really our economic clusters.”

But Zulich feels Sudbury has not reaped the benefits of the economic boom of the last decade.

“The city has been forced to raise taxes because assessed values of properties are declining and that’s because there’s no growth.”

Yet there are some projects that have momentum to build upon. The mining sector remains the city’s greatest salvation, he says, and will continue to remain a major employer. The formation of a mining supplier trade association dedicated to exporting their product and expertise worldwide is a step in the right direction.

“It’s such an important aspect of what the city should become,” as a designated centre for excellence in Canadian mining, says Zulich “We have all the research and development, skills and technologies...

“We are the retail and tourism centre for northeastern Ontario and I think that has to be marketed.”

Consumer confidence and quality of life is important as well, he says, if the city wants to attract young professionals and their families.

In June, the New Economy group signed a participation agreement with the city’s post-secondary institutions to market Sudbury as an Ontario education destination. It has spring-boarded into a concept to gentrify an old business district within the downtown core into a student village by September.

With the city apartment vacancy rate at below one per cent, and a robust demand for accommodations due to the double cohort, renovating downtown buildings into student lofts could inject millions of dollars into the downtown.

John Caruso, chairman of the Greater Sudbury Development Corp. board, bristles at the suggestion that business is not represented at city hall, citing 12 “ordinary” members of the development corporation board of directors are business people.

As a former federal economic development officer, a sign shop owner and a recently announced mayoral candidate, Caruso perceives some dissatisfaction by the New Economy group with fundamental issues of the structure of the city’s economic development department. He suggests a working relationship between the mayor’s office and the Greater Sudbury Development Corp. board is lacking.

Caruso says there are some misgivings whether the amalgamated city’s decision to merge the economic development and planning departments together as a more business-friendly entity was a good move.

As well, since the creation of the new development corporation, Caruso says, the mayor’s office has “run an almost parallel economic development operation” pursuing its own separate agenda on the Northern Ontario Medical School and the four-laning of Highway 69.

Whether voters will rake candidates over the coals over economic strategy, Caruso is unsure, but he suspects most are more pre-occupied with fixing potholes and where their next paycheque might come from.

But he believes all groups can find common ground in pursuing like-minded activities and is pursuing an upcoming meeting between his executive and the New Economy group.

“The task of economic development is not one group, it’s the whole community.”

Economic growth is no quick-fix and must come from within by encouraging local businesses to grow and by creating a culture of entrepreneurs and problem solvers, he says.

“This whole notion of smoke stack chasing is not a policy worth pursuing,” he says, but taking a more targeted approach, such as focusing on growing the biotechnology sector and finding ways to complement the medical school and new regional hospital is a more practical solution.

“This 10-year plan, I’m convinced, if we stick to it will produce positive results.”

Nadorozny acknowledges some serious socioeconomic problems persist and the city has not benefited from the

now-fading economic boom, “but that’s reality.”

Most of Canada’s economic revival and demographic growth patterns have occurred in three or four major cities.

“Everybody else has a net decrease in population and suffers from youth out-migration. This is not because Sudbury did something horrible or awful, and didn’t respond as a community.”

“Rather than sit around and talk about the challenges we have, I’d rather ask, ‘why do we have to accept that as our ultimate fate? What’s makes us different from Timmins or North Bay, or Thunder Bay or Kelowna? What strengths do we have?’”

“I don’t think we have to settle for that kind of bleak future...that’s why we have to come together as community and pool our resources.”