Lack of modern healthcare facilities a weakness in local economic development pitch
Thursday, June 4, 2020
The Windsor Star/Dave Waddell
It may appear unusual for the Windsor Essex Economic Development Corporation to lead a campaign to push for a new hospital, but CEO/President Stephen Mackenize said the area’s economic health is dependent upon it.
“Good public health is a prerequisite for the economic health of the region,” said Mackenzie following Wednesday’s kick-off of the We Can’t Wait campaign (Windsoressexcantwait.ca).
“This project hasn’t moved forward one centimetre since I came here four years ago.
He said he’s talked about the new hospital with business people, union leaders, politicians and people in the community. “The silent majority feels its time for this project to move forward.”
He said the feedback to the campaign announcement has been instantaneous.
“We’re getting emails from multinational corporations with operations in Windsor supporting this,” MacKenzie said. “We’re getting emails from individuals thanking us too.”
Mackenzie was blunt in saying Windsor’s aging healthcare infrastructure is making the job of economic development more challenging.
Healthcare is a key component of the quality of life equation firms consider when choosing sites for new plants.
“They look at the business case and then the second phase of the process is quality of life,” Mackenzie said.
“That includes is the community safe, are the schools good, amenities, entertainment and healthcare. We have great healthcare professionals, but we have to give them the facilities to take care of this community.”
Mackenzie said his economic development staff have tried to sidestep the infrastructure shortcomings with assurances of a new hospital in the pipeline.
He said no company has directly tied a site rejection to local healthcare, but having good health facilities is one checkmark other competing communities have that Windsor-Essex lacks.
Seeing the provincial government pushing the capital funding for the Windsor project to five years or longer prompted WEEDC officials to begin developing their plan last August.
“We sell foreign companies on (the fact) their employees will have healthcare coverage and the quality of the care, but we can’t lie about the infrastructure,” MacKenzie said.
“We’ve been selling promises for the future, but after four years this project is stalled. I need to be able to say we’ve got the $9 million of government funding for the next stage of planning.”
Aside from the pure health benefits a new hospital provides, Mackenzie said the project will generate significant economic spinoffs for the area.
He cited a KMPG study that estimates the hospital would generate the equivalent of 13,000 full-time positions and add $1 billion to $1.5 billion annually to the local GDP.
“Looking at those figures you can see this is an important economic project as much as it’s a healthcare project,” Mackenzie said.
“If we can get a state-of-the-art hospital built, it’ll attract top doctors and researchers. It will help us build out the pharmaceutical and life sciences cluster we trying to grow.
“That’s why it’s right for WEEDC to be involved in this.”
The WEEDC board of directors, which includes representatives from the City of Windsor and Essex County along with business leaders, unanimously approved the campaign.
The initial phase of the campaign will last about six months.
It will include a website, and adds on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Additional phases can be rolled out if desired.
Mackenzie made no apologies for WEEDC hiring Crestview Strategy to design the campaign. He estimated the campaign will cost be “in the high five figures to low six figures.”
Mackenzie said Crestview was chosen because of its proven track record in producing effective digital and social media campaigns in a variety of sectors.
He said the campaign isn’t aimed so much at combating Citizens for an Accountable Megahospital Planning Process, the local group fighting the new hospital’s proposed location. It is more about providing the platforms to allow the community to impress on Queen’s Park that there is broad support for the project, he said.
CAMPP has waged a legal battle against the chosen site for the hospital at County Road 42 and Ninth Concession.
“The only vocalization in the community can’t be what we believe is a minority opposed to the project,” Mackenzie said.
“The campaign is meant to educate, mobilize and communicate that message to Queen’s Park. There are already grassroots groups, like 42 Forward, doing things but now we’re providing a platform for a more co-ordinated and effective message.”