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Meeting stresses potential for region’s growth

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“In all of our communities, there are success stories and potential.”

That’s how Tannis Drysdale, president of the Northwestern Ontario Associated Chambers of Commerce, summed up “The Great Rendez-Vous,” a two-day meeting last week in Thunder Bay of more than 120 municipal leaders and those concerned with economic development from across Northwestern Ontario.

“I think we learned from the conference just how much potential we have for growth,” she noted. “Despite some of the demographic trends in the past 10 years or so, we learned from people in the health care field and other areas that there is potential.”

Drysdale wasn’t the only delegate attending the conference from Rainy River District. She was joined by Fort Frances Mayor Glenn Witherspoon, Telford Advent, Jane Gillon, Geoff Gillon, and Crystal Godbout, among others.

“It was definitely enlightening,” Mayor Witherspoon said. “The message was, ‘It’s no good to go to the provincial or federal government with your hand out.’

“We’ll never succeed if we don’t believe in ourselves, if we don’t sell ourselves to gain those capital investments,” he stressed.

“We understand that in Northwestern Ontario, we’re unique. We’re tired of seeing trucks pass through with just raw materials,” the mayor added. “We have to work on the strengths we have.”

Mayor Witherspoon noted some of the topics discussed were workplace safety, health care, forestry, tourism, and mining in the region.

“What are the stages we have to go through to create employment and keep the young people from moving away?” he noted. “People can’t look at today—we have to look at the future.

“At this conference, the mandate was not to create a document to put on the shelf, but a plan that could be put into action.”

The mayor noted the information gleaned from the conference complements current projects going on here, like the town’s strategic planning, the recent Chamber of Commerce business retention and expansion survey, and a proposed “Smart Growth” committee.

Godbout, who most recently spearheaded the Chamber’s business retention and expansion task force and beautification committee, said the conference gave her some insights.

“I think the fact we got together with people from across Northwestern Ontario was great,” she said, adding the conference consisted of testimonials about successful businesses in the region on Thursday while Friday involved “break out” groups for brainstorming.

“It was good to be able to sit down and talk about different aspects of different topics,” Godbout said.

“You always hear about problems with business in Northwestern Ontario. But at this, you might just find out a certain community found a way to solve a particular problem.”

“The Great Rendez-Vous” was a joint venture of the Northwestern Ontario Associated Chambers of Commerce (NOACC), Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association (NOMA), and Northwestern Ontario Development Network (NODN).

Drysdale noted the three groups will meet at the end of the month and try to create a “common vision” based on suggestions made at the conference.

She added a similar conference likely will be held next year.

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