It might still be difficult to think of Kawartha Lakes as a city, given that so much of it is largely made up of pastoral farms and placid lakes.
And yet it has been over 16 years since Victoria Country and its townships were transformed into the sixth biggest city in Canada, in terms of area.
Getting into that whole-City mindset is something on the mind of Denise Williams, manager of economic development for Kawartha Lakes.
In fact, the first of five strategic goals for the economic development office is to get the City itself to adopt a “City-wide focus” when it comes to economic development.
1. Adopt a city-wide focus
Williams says the economic development office’s strategy now through 2020 is to create unified marketing strategies, and to develop City-wide programs “that leverage the advantage of being a City” with a community by community approach to implementation.
“Yorkdale Mall in Toronto doesn’t promote itself as a little shoe store, even though it may have a little shoe store inside. It’s a destination to come and see a number of different things,” says Williams, drawing a parallel with a sprawling city like Kawartha Lakes.
“When I think of Kawartha Lakes, I think of our downtowns, I think of 250 lakes and rivers, canoeing, water skiing, fishing…the whole municipality is a destination,” she says.
Williams says it’s getting that mindset right, and then following through with marketing and implementation.
“We need to present the idea of Kawartha Lakes in its fullness to people.”
Part of this strategy involves the objective of implementing downtown revitalization plans in Coboconk-Norland, Omemee, Lindsay, and Fenelon Falls, and to create more heritage conservation districts, art programs, and trails.
2. Grow Specific Business Sectors
The second of five strategies for the City is to “grow specific business sectors,” and for that “we looked at five areas that are already working,” Williams tells The Lindsay Advocate.
Agriculture and Food
Given that 75 per cent of the City’s municipal land is agricultural in some way (which includes forestry), agriculture and food is the first cluster highlighted by the City. In fact, there were $149 million recorded in gross farm-related receipts last year.
“It makes up a lot of the contribution to our economy,” says Williams.
Livestock, food processing, and the innovation and diversification of agriculture, including connecting it with tourism, are all part of the identified cluster.
The second cluster the City has identified is tourism, and this includes those tourists who come for retail destinations, says Williams, such as Bigley Shoes in Bobcaygeon or Sweet Annies clothing store in downtown Lindsay.
“Some of our stores are almost like attractions themselves, so specialty retail was added to tourism,” in addition to things the area is already well-known for, such as its lift locks, rivers, lakes, and cottaging.
It’s likely no surprise that summer is the strongest month for tourism and even winter has a clear focus with the many winter sports and recreational activities the area is known for, like snowmobiling.
“But it’s in spring and fall where our opportunities may lie,” says Williams, perhaps in fishing and hunting, as two examples.
The City is looking to “cultivate a community of specialized manufacturers” that raises the profile of the manufacturing image of Kawartha Lakes. This will include developing a program to attract new manufacturers, and infrastructure to support the health of local industrial areas.
“We do have a lot of talent here in industry. So we’re looking for knowledge sharing around manufacturing,” says Williams.
She points out that Economic Development recently coordinated an event where Lindsay’s Northern Casket hosted 14 other city manufacturers to compare notes on what’s working for them.
Kawartha Lakes is looking to foster the development of cultural events and festivals, which have an obvious connection to the tourism cluster.
Williams points out the City is helping its arts, culture and heritage sector learn how to plan events, collect data, and get funding.
“We’re hearing that people want music in the street. They want festivals to attend.”
By learning how to promote events, she says, “and encourage more off-season events,” then people might be more inclined to visit throughout the seasons.
Engineered Products and Related Services
In particular, the City is looking to “develop opportunities with Fleming College” and other institutions to expand opportunities.
3. Encourage a Positive Community Business Culture
This third prong of the overall strategy is all about individual communities within the City working together for the good of all.
Williams points to a recent Chamber of Commerce roundtable that brought all the individual chambers together — Lindsay, Fenelon Falls, Bobcaygeon, and Coboconk-Norland – to talk about what training is needed, what opportunities there are, and “how to keep promoting together.”
There was a digital marketing series held across the City that drew at least a dozen participants each time and a desire for “next steps” in practical training.
4. Align and Inspire City Resources
The economic development strategy document notes that “organizations that work together…typically out-perform organizations that operate in silos.”
Williams points out that four of the downtowns — Lindsay, Coboconk-Norland, Omemee, and Fenelon Falls – all now have representatives to share ideas on how they can promote their respective downtowns.
“We’re sharing our streetscape plans. We need to inspire each of our communities to get this into their budgets. We work really closely with communications and our advertising group…there’s almost daily collaboration on our creative work.”
The economic development manager says within the development services department representatives from across the City are invited to team meetings to “cross-pollinate” ideas.
5. Attract and Retain a New Generation of Great Entrepreneurs and Workforce
The fifth component of the strategy is the hardest one of all, according to Williams.
Since Kawartha Lakes is naturally attracting an older demographic, economic development programs “will focus on retaining, repatriating and attracting a younger demographic…to support a healthy, vibrant economy,” according to the strategy document.
“We know we need to do it. It’s a stumbling block, to be honest,” Williams says candidly.
She says since there are not a lot of high paying jobs, other than opportunities in education, government, and healthcare, “it’s difficult to attract young graduates.”
“It’s a challenge. We are looking to go out and ask our young people ‘what will it take?’ We need to know the answers.”
Williams’ comments back up a previous Lindsay Advocate story, featuring an interview with Director of Education Larry Hope, of Trillium Lakelands District School Board.
Hope told the Advocate that, at the age of graduation many young adults “want to spread their wings and see what else is out there in the world,” so it isn’t always easy to retain students for careers locally.
“Part of the challenge for us is that many times students go elsewhere for training and then they don’t come back,” said Hope. “So we need to find a way to do a better job at retaining more of our graduates.”
Williams wonders if working with Fleming College might be part of the solution in terms of tracking down graduates and finding where they ended up. Then maybe they could be enticed to return if the right conditions are in place.
A Strategy to Grow
Williams is happy they have the Economic Development Strategy in play now, which helps set the tone for City Council and for everyone to keep their eye on the clarity of the goals before them.
“It simplifies things. It’s really clear what our purpose is. Now we just have to work hard to make it all happen.”