By Heather Killen
It’s up to the local communities to find ways to attract new business and people to the area, according to the thinking of many small business people in Middleton.
About 20 Middleton area business owners came out to a Meet the Council night at town hall on February 21.
This meet and greet was organized by the Middleton Area Business Association to give small businesses an opportunity to chat with the town council, and each other, about common issues.
The meeting was informal and no agenda was prepared. More than 70 business people in the downtown core and outlying areas were invited and throughout the two-hour session various questions, suggestions, and concerns were raised.
People talked about ways to beautify the town and business park, and possible initiatives that could bring more people into town. Most agreed that small businesses are the backbone of the local economy, as these initiatives begin locally and stay in the community.
Unlike the large corporations that siphon money out of the local economy and only set up shop until the government subsidies run out, small businesses employ local people and directly support the community.
The group talked about how the local business community and the town can work together to create an environment where business can thrive and expand. It was agreed that in order to grow the population, more employment and social opportunities are needed.
A large part of the discussion was centered on how to attract and retain new businesses in Middleton and whether the province’s new plan to introduce Regional Enterprise Networks (REN) will actually benefit the local economy.
After the federal government announced that effective May 2013, it would no longer support the regional economic development organizations, the province conducted a review of the 12 Regional Development Authorities (RDA).
The province announced last fall that it intends to replace the RDA model with six RENs to lead regional economic development initiatives. The past regional economic development model, the Annapolis Digby Economic Development Agency (ADEDA) is now in the process of winding down.
Dan Smith, deputy mayor, told the business group that the new plan is to economically link the Valley from Windsor through Annapolis County, with the proposed REN combining the counties of Annapolis, Kings, and West Hants.
Smith said he and Mayor Calvin Eddy, and town CAO Clayton MacMurtry have already attended a couple meetings about the proposed REN and will soon have more details to bring back to council for consideration.
“I’m not sure how directly beneficial it will be, but I believe the province will want us to participate in order to qualify for any government funding,” he said. “If we don’t participate, it may mean we aren’t able to access the partner dollars in funding agreements.”
Some people said they are concerned that the new REN will be more focused on generating opportunities in Kings and Hants counties, and that Annapolis wouldn’t see much direct benefit.
Smith added that the town has been working more closely with the neighbouring municipalities to promote partnerships and initiatives within Annapolis that could foster the types of infrastructure needed to attract new business to the area.
Jonathan Archibald, MABA chair, said he is pleased at the turnout and direction of the meeting and hopes that the momentum can be carried forward. He added that given the fact it took about two years to get ADEDA going, it will likely take some time before the new REN model is functional.
“I think everyone is basically in agreement,” he said. “And that when the town representatives go into the discussions about the REN, I hope they can feel confident they are in sync with the business owners and they can say with confidence this is what this community is thinking.”
The next meeting of the Middleton Area Business Association will take place at Subway at 6:30 p.m. on March 21. Everyone is invited.