Making Orillia’s economic development a priority
To those of you I have not yet met, allow me to introduce myself.
In July, I was appointed as the City of Orillia’s new director of economic development. Based on feedback from residents during the last municipal election, this term of council identified economic development as one of the city’s top priorities. Early this year, council decided economic development should become a department with a director who can bring economic development perspectives and priorities directly to the city’s senior management table.
I have spent more than 25 years in economic development, holding senior positions with the City of Toronto, the province of Ontario, as well as leading economic development in Sheffield, England, and Brisbane, Australia. As someone who has had a family cottage in Simcoe County, which is now my home, for more than 40 years, I have observed Orillia’s economic ups and downs throughout the decades. So, when I saw this new position open up, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to bring my experience and energy to the task of taking Orillia to the next level.
Orillia is a small city with a good quality of life, a beautiful waterfront, a quaint downtown, quality post-secondary institutions, good highway connectivity and easy access to the GTA. As a visitor and observer over the years, I have seen the growth of west Orillia, the opening of OPP General Headquarters, the addition of Casino Rama and the lineup of great festivals and events that have created a foundation for future growth.
I believe Orillia’s economy has turned a corner and, with the right strategic investments and a continuing commitment to progress, it is poised to accelerate growth in the next 10 years. Recent developments back this up.
Subject to Ontario Energy Board approval, the new, $150-million Hydro One investments will bring construction spending in the short term, and when fully in place, could inject up to $300 million every year in payroll to the Orillia economy.
The Costco investment puts Orillia firmly on the map as not only a regional shopping centre, but as a hub for a region that stretches beyond Lake Country west to Midland, east to Kawartha Lakes, and north into Muskoka.
Building permits for new single-family homes in Orillia have increased by 20% and residential sales are up 61% over last year.
A survey of businesses in Orillia showed 52% had grown their employment over the past three years, while 38% had no change in employment.
Orillia is also positioning itself for future growth.
A tourism strategy will be presented to council in November that will ask council to consider a new visitor information centre and better wayfinding and signage to improve the visitor experience.
Council has approved a new Downtown Community Improvement Plan, and will begin accepting applications early next year for grants to assist with the costs of certain downtown redevelopment projects. Using the results from a retail mix analysis currently wrapping up, Orillia staff will be working with the Downtown Orillia Management Board to market downtown retail and hospitality opportunities to bring in new businesses.
Investments in the Orillia Public Library and the construction of the new recreation facility currently underway will make Orillia a more attractive place for existing and new residents.
Investments in road expansions and other infrastructure around the Highway 11 interchanges will also increase capacity for new development in coming decades.
Creating prosperity in cities, especially in cities that have had to reinvent themselves, takes time. Orillia has taken important steps over the past few decades to position itself to continue that reinvention. The results are now starting to show and Orillia must continue that momentum.
Our strong senior leadership team and our economic development staff at the City of Orillia look forward to continuing to grow business opportunities in Orillia and implement the progressive vision of this council.
Ian Bromley is the City of Orillia’s director of economic development.