Leamington Prepares Post-Heinz Economic Strategy

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Windsor Star/Chris Thompson

With the closure of Heinz and the disappearance of 740 full-time jobs on the horizon, Leamington has begun the process of investing more in its economic future.

Council held a special meeting Thursday to discuss replacing recently retired economic development officer Anne Miskovsky, and many ideas about the focus her replacement should take were bandied about during the 90-minute session.

“This is the time we make our change and redevelop ourselves,” said Coun. Chris Chopchik.

“We know Heinz is going.”

While the Windsor-Essex County Economic Development Corporation has been a tremendous help in the wake of Heinz’s devastating announcement, they are a regional body that can’t focus forever on Leamington’s issues, CAO Bill Marck said.

“The development corporation has been extremely helpful for Leamington with the recent Heinz announcement; they’ve come to the plate, we’re been in contact with them every single day, the deputy ministers have been down here making sure we’re got a plan in place, they’re working with suppliers that might lose the business,” said Marck.

“We did not have the staff to do any of that.”

The session was overseen by municipal consultant Kelly Linton of Elora-based Imaginate Inc., who had already been reviewing the town’s structure since July when the Heinz news came on Nov. 14.

Linton suggested the new economic development officer be assigned to the planning department, something that was rejected by a number of councillors.

Most agreed the new economic development officer should report to the CAO and mayor.

Coun. Hilda MacDonald said that with the economic security of Heinz, the town has “just been floating along.”

“You need to meet with the farmers, meet with the business owners,” said MacDonald, noting that retaining existing business must remain a focus.

“The need has not been there like it is now. Now there is a serious need to have a name and figure close to the top. We need somebody strong, forceful, who’ll say I’m here to do business and sell our town to you.”

In the past the economic development officer’s tasks also went well beyond the traditional definition of the post, encompassing tourism and other various tasks.

“We have to have something very structured, very accountable, with some muscle behind it,” said Deputy Mayor Charlie Wright.

Linton will provide his recommendations to council in a report on Dec. 16.