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Women Leaders in Business: Abiding curiosity drives the work of long-time Timmins business leader

Noella Rinaldo brings a lifetime of experience to new economic development role
Noella Rinaldo took over as director of community economic development for the Timmins Economic Development Corporation in 2020.

The secret to navigating a long and successful career, according to Timmins’ Noella Rinaldo, is to surround yourself with interesting individuals.

Rinaldo, who took over the city’s community economic development team in September 2020, said her curiosity about people and their passions — what drives them, what inspires them to succeed — is the main ingredient in helping the local economy thrive.

The key role Rinaldo performs at the Timmins Economic Development Corporation (TEDC) is connecting those people with non-profit organizations, artist collectives and cultural groups with the goal of spurring development in the City with Heart of Gold.

“I think it's just a mixture of enjoying people and their stories,” Rinaldo said. “And in doing that, there always comes an opportunity to do something new.”

Although Rinaldo had plenty of experience in the public sector before taking the new role — she chaired the downtown business improvement association (BIA) and was also elected to city council for three terms — she said the route to her position with the EDC was non-traditional.

“I just like challenges,” Rinaldo said. “For me to take this position at my age, and for the city and the EDC board to look at my resume… because I did not have the education qualifications for the role…. but they saw the value in my experience, that takes a very unique employer.”

The city took a chance on her, Rinaldo said, in an approach to hiring that will likely become more common as employers struggle to fill leadership roles.

“Down the road, employers are going to have to look at well-rounded résumés, not specific roles,” she said. “We're at a point right now where employers can't be picky. They're not understanding that there's a shortage of people out there, but they also need to look at people in a roundabout way.”

If those shortages in the workforce weren’t obvious before the pandemic, they’re certainly at the forefront of conversations Rinaldo has with business leaders these days. The situation, she said, is at the “make or break” point.

Rinaldo’s advice to business owners and potential employees: look beyond the résumé.

“People are understanding that they need to be less specialized in who they're looking for,” she said. “Employers are still saying, ‘But what if I'm hiring the wrong person? It's just not worth it.’

“But at the same time, people need to be a Jack of all trades.”

“It's such a changing world right now, we are at the cusp,” she said. “There's such a shortage of people.”

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It may not have been apparent to her at the time, but Rinaldo said every stop in her career’s journey has prepared her for the new role.

That includes owning a clothing store, and sitting on several boards in the city, like the Farmers’ Markets Ontario Board, the Timmins Museum National Exhibition Centre, and the Timmins Public Library.

“I tell people ‘Do everything you can that you want to do. If it's interesting to you, pursue it,’” she said.

“I also say to people, ‘You need to expand your circle, and you'll find other passions, and you'll meet some interesting people and hear stories that could guide you into another career.’”

Another key takeaway for employers, she said, is to not scrimp when it comes to simple things, like respect for their workers.

That was a lesson she learned from one of her first jobs — a waitress at the A&W drive-in when she was 17 years old.

“That was the days where you clipped the trays on the outside of the car,” she said. “And employees were a dime a dozen; you just had to put the sign outside the window and you'd get 30 kids applying for a job.”

“We had a great manager who really worked around my hours… and even understood back then that, as a student, I needed to be flexible, and she was flexible with me,” Rinaldo said.

“Because of that, I was always very loyal to her and all of us kids worked our [ends] off for that manager, because she treated us well, even as kids.”

“It really didn't make a difference that I was 15 or 16,” Rinaldo said. “Or the fact that there were women there that were 30. It didn't matter. She treated everyone equally and with the same respect.”

A second job — this one at a high-end hotel in the city — also drove home how some managers can stifle motivation and innovation in their workers.

“Sunday mornings we’d have brunches at the restaurant,” Rinaldo said. “We’d put out a menu, and I’d write ‘Have a great day.’ And at the bottom of the customers’ bills I’d draw a smiley face with my name. It was simple, but it made customers happy.”

“One day the manager pulled me aside to say, ‘Why would you put that on the bill?’”

“It just makes people smile,” Rinaldo said. “Then he said, ‘I don't think you should be doing it.’”

“I remember leaving that, thinking, ‘What an idiot. Why would you not let your employee be a little bit thinking outside the box?’ Especially if it makes the customer happy?”

“It stuck with me because I thought it was such a stupid criticism,” she said. “It just kind of showed how some employers just don't value their employees or let them come to them with ideas.”

But even as the leadership lessons from years back come into focus as she settles into her new role with the city, Rinaldo said she has no plans on slowing down. In fact, after just finishing an economic development program at the University of Waterloo, she said she feels like she’s just getting started.

“There’s a lot to get done here,” she said. “I have work on some projects with not-for-profits, I have work I want to do with the agricultural community, and stuff like that.

“And I'm saying to myself, ’There's still lots to do here, so much to do. I hope I have enough time to do it all.’”