Given the current economic opportunities facing our community, setting the right conditions for business success is more important than ever. It is anticipated that our local economy will experience $6.3 billion in mining development over the next 5 years.
The Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce (GSCC) represents over 1,050 members and seeks to raise the quality and consciousness of public discourse on key issues confronting its members and stakeholders. This submission is on behalf of our members and is aimed to provide guidance and suggestions to assist Council as they create the best environment
for business to thrive and contribute to a strong and sustainable economy.
This submission is structured around four municipal areas that are critical to improving the business experience in the community and creating the circumstances that allow the municipality to become more fiscally independent.
The four areas are: Debt Financing; Industrial Lands Strategy, an Integrated Workforce Strategy and Red Tape Reductions.
The historically strong resistance to financing capital projects through loans and private partnerships – capital projects which would go a long way in assisting the community diversify and attract new development – is one area where the chamber believes Council can move toward.
Currently, Council’s policy on debt financing states that it should only be considered for:
- new, non-recurring infrastructure requirements;
- programs and facilities which are self-supporting; and
- projects where the cost of deferring expenditures exceeds debt servicing costs.
However, due to the growing inventory of deficient, standard class infrastructure accruing year-over-year, this policy is no longer effective to meet the minimum rate of replacement.
The importance of capital investment in municipal assets cannot be understated. It plays an important role in the quality of life for residents and enhances the municipality’s capacity to create a more competitive business environment.
All forms of infrastructure (transportation, bricks and mortar, power, telecommunications and environmental) are growing rapidly and are outpacing the municipal government’s current policy of “pay-as-you-go”.
Borrowing to finance capital investment is perfectly legitimate because it supports long-term growth of the economy with respect to critical infrastructure. Moreover, the combination of negligible municipal debt and historically low interest rates are two positive aspects that favour a debt-financing proposal.
Similarly, partnerships between the City and the private sector should be considered. In this arrangement, the City can transfer its operating costs and liability burdens to the private sector thereby reducing a large proportion of its financial responsibility. The Kelly Lake Biosolids Plant is a good first start.
Another potential avenue is the concept of issuing municipal bonds.
While it is true that there has been little interest within the municipal sector in Canada to issue bonds due to the fact that many municipalities are adverse to debt, there are benefits:
- Provides financing for immediate construction;
- Local ownership in community development can be encouraged through a bond issue; and
- Accessing funding at a lower borrowing cost than the existing market.
Ultimately, Council must realize that deferral of infrastructure replacement has become a greater threat to the prosperity of the community than borrowing to finance spending.
Industrial Lands Strategy
The availability of shovel ready industrial land is a critical component of a healthy and prosperous community. Currently, there are more than 4,000 people directly employed in the eight industrial parks.
In February 2011, staff sought Council’s direction to refine criteria and a decision-making framework to address waste-water infrastructure challenges in a number of industrial areas throughout the City.
Staff has since provided an update with respect to cost estimates and conceptual designs to Council and the various components comprising the financial model and framework for this project. Unfortunately, Council has yet to commit to a long term strategic renewal of all the industrial areas.
The GSCC believes that addressing infrastructure challenges aligns with the City of Greater Sudbury’s broad strategic mission – in particular Economic Development and Focus on Opportunities. A supply of modern, shovel ready industrial land can positively affect the City and create and support jobs in multiple sectors. It can generate taxes that sustain the quality of life elsewhere in the City by funding streets and sidewalks, police and fire services, libraries, trash collection, and more.
For these reasons, the GSCC recommends that the budget process commits the City to earmark $1 million toward the Industrial Land Reserve Fund every year in order to sustain and expand industrial zoned land. This will have a cumulative impact of creating a sustainable source of funding for future and ongoing park maintenance and development.
This dedicated funding is even more crucial should Council decide to oppose debt financing options.
Integrated Workforce Strategy
The number one challenge facing employers today is accessing and retaining appropriately skilled labour in a timely and cost effective manner.
Pressure on competition for skilled labour combined with an aging provincial workforce and a stagnant provincial population growth rate demand that we work together to develop an effective workforce expansion strategy. This approach must involve every sector of the community.
Regrettably, the City does not have such a strategy in place.
The GSCC is committed to assisting the City, but believes that Council must champion this cause.
If we are to guide the anticipated growth and maximize the return on investments in the community, we must strategize and set a path that provides tangible actions, assigns specific goals and “connects the dots” between community groups and organizations.
We believe Budget 2013 may provide an opportunity to dedicate funding toward such a strategy as a first step.
Municipal Red Tape
The GSCC recently presented the Municipal Red Tape Progress Report to Council.
The report concluded that while important work was done in refining and identifying a handful of solutions, there are outstanding issues that require monetary support in order to address them fully.
The GSCC believes that the budget should provide financial resources – where warranted – for customer service training, the integration of all application requirements and regulations toward an online setting and a Municipal Service Improvement Review Committee (chaired by the Mayor and consisting of representatives from the business community and senior department staff to review existing bylaws, policies, practices and procedures to make them more streamlined, less bureaucratic, and more business-friendly).
We believe that these three specific areas can help create a more responsive, effect and independent municipality.
While we face some important decisions – decisions that will undoubtly affect the future of our City’s citizens and businesses alike – the aforementioned aspects may provide some direction to Council as they look to build a fair, reflective budget that meets the needs of the whole community.