'Back to basics' economic development corporation finds stability
Wednesday, June 21, 2017
The Windsor Star/Dave Battagello
The revolving door of CEOs and board members an apparent thing of the past, the WindsorEssex Economic Development Corporation appears finally focused on what it was assigned to do — attract new investment and help existing businesses grow.
The development corporation staged its annual general meeting Tuesday at the Fogolar Furlan Club to unveil achievements of the past year, plus talk of its renewed focus to attract, retain and help launch business startups in Windsor and Essex County.
“It’s been a year of transition,” said Stephen MacKenzie, who took over as CEO last August. “We had a new board, have been analyzing the situation and staffing up. It was the first time there has been a full complement of employees.”
MacKenzie indicated he now has a good grasp of the region’s strengths and his own corporation which has helped him develop strategies to push forward in the months ahead.
“There are hundreds of economic strategies, but at the end of the day you have three buckets — one to attract companies, another to assist companies already here to expand and the third to foster entrepreneurship for persons to start up,” he said.
Agriculture, manufacturing and automotive have been the region’s strength and should continue to be – with the search on attracting new investment to the region which can feed off those industries, he said.
“We are going to be selective, very targeted and looking for qualified leads,” MacKenzie said. “We are not going to go out, blitz everything and hope something sticks. It’s going to be based on industries’ strengths and geographic location.”
WEEDC from its creation nearly a decade ago has been largely funded evenly between Windsor and Essex County municipal taxpayers.
Last year’s local taxpayer contribution totalled $2.16 million, according to information released Tuesday. Provincial grants helped boost the corporation’s overall operational revenues to $2.9 million. The development corporation operated at a break-even level in 2016, including $1.22 million spent on staff salaries.
For that investment, the development corporation claimed it attracted or helped generate $203.7 million in new investment in 2016, with 1,166 new jobs created.
The development corporation has undergone a complete turnaround, said retiring board chairman Marty Komsa. He will be replaced as chairman by Essex County Warden Tom Bain.
“Three years ago, it was very different,” Komsa said. “We have since taken a different approach. We got back to basics, being open and transparent, plus showing what we accomplished.”
Komsa believes many good things were happening internally in terms of the organization’s role in regional economic development, but “poor communication” hindered that message getting out.
“The corporation was doing good things, but the public didn’t understand what was happening,” he said. “The only information was they were chasing big opportunities, but there was tremendous work being done.”
MacKenzie credits WEEDC’s turnaround in part to every municipality now being on the same page — perhaps a dig at the past where there was a constant antagonistic battle between city officials and their municipal counterparts in the county.
“There has to be a culture where everyone understands that together we are stronger,” he said. “(The mayors) have been supportive and it is making a difference — on our brand name, how the region is perceived and what we can achieve.”