Sunday, July 3, 2022

MODG establishes Guysborough District Business Partnership

Council invests $1.5 million in new tourism, business initiative

  • April 13 2022
  • By Corey LeBlanc    

GUYSBOROUGH – The Municipality of the District Guysborough (MODG) has launched a private sector-led organization that it says will focus on “advancing tourism offerings and small business opportunities.”

During a special meeting on April 6, MODG council approved several recommendations from its committee of the whole session held earlier that afternoon to the Guysborough District Business Partnership (GDBP), including a $1.5 million funding commitment over a five-year period.

“Council took a strong position on this new initiative, as it is something we need greatly – more people. This strategic new venture will hope to draw additional visitors, additional businesses and a more deliberate impact on the future viability of our municipality,” MODG Vernon Pitts says in public statement released on April 7.

He reiterates those thoughts in an April 11 phone conversation with The Journal.

“We are very excited about it,” Pitts says of the newly approved initiative, which he notes will not only help keep but also bring people to the area.

The genesis for what is now the GDBP came a couple of months ago during MODG’s yearly planning session, which includes municipal councillors and staff. It was an idea of something to consider exploring from CAO Barry Carroll.

“Those are the types of things that he should be considering – that’s what we pay him for,” Pitts offers of him coming to the table with the suggestion.

Noting that elected officials – like him – are “councillors and not business people,” he explains that council thought the idea would provide much sought expertise that could benefit the municipality.

“They can let us know what we need, what we are lacking,” Pitts says.

He notes that could be anything from infrastructure to other improvements.

Pitts stresses that the GDBP will not be run by the MODG; its office will not even be located in the municipal building in Guysborough.

“We will supply the fuel and they will do the driving,” he offers of the relationship.

That “fuel” will include the aforementioned $1.5 million funding commitment from the municipality – over a five-year period – including $1 million in direct monies: $200,000 per year, with a maximum of $100,000 to be used for administrative expenses and $100,000 for special project funding.

When it comes to indirect funding ($500,000), the MODG will cover salary and benefit costs for the secondment of an MODG employee (municipal clerk Ashley Cunningham) to the new entity, while also covering initial start-up costs – such as legal, furniture and information technology – plus in-kind labour costs.

“I am very excited to get started in this role. I’m hoping to make an impact on the tourism and small business offerings in MODG working with our experienced lineup of board members to create partnerships and enhance what MODG has to offer,” Cunningham – GDBP’s executive director – says in the April 7 press release.

In an April 11 follow-up email conversation, she spoke further about the initiative.

“The idea of creating the GDBP stemmed from looking at our current needs – more people and more business offerings in MODG,” she writes.

“Coming up with fresh, experiential tourist attractions, using our already existing natural beauty and making simple enhancements will certainly increase our appeal to tourists,” she says.

Cunningham explains that “leveraging” grants and funding from the provincial and federal governments will be a key to “accomplishing these projects and furthering the business offerings in MODG.”

With the secondment of Cunningham to that full-time position, Magdelyn Connolly will move from MODG’s public works administrative assistant to municipal clerk.

Council has also approved a $200,000 transfer from MODG’s economic development reserve – once the GDBP is established – which the newly formed body’s board will manage during the 2022-23 fiscal year.

In announcing the launch, under the tag line ‘Building for a Prosperous Future,’ municipal officials outlined priorities, for the GDBP, including small business development, tourism enhancement, relationship development with organizations such as ACOA and DEANS, identifying business development incentives, resident attraction, residential development and community events.

When asked what the GDBP will be doing differently from MODG’s existing economic development branch, the warden says “enhancing the operations of that office,” while noting that Director of Economic Development Gordon MacDonald will serve as an ex-officio member of GDBP’s founding board of directors.

Speaking of that body, with one of several motions made as part of establishing the GDBP, municipal council greenlighted the appointment of its members.

“You are always going to leave someone out,” Pitts offers, noting that there were many qualified candidates to choose from in that process; founding directors were selected from names brought to the table by MODG staff and councillors.

He adds that they were “successful” in putting together a group with a wide representation from key areas, including aspects of the business community – such as tourism, industry and natural resources.

“Everyone was very positive,” Pitts notes of the response that they received from prospective board members.

Glynn Williams – president and proprietor of Authentic Seacoast Ltd., one of those selected for the inaugural group of directors – will serve as the first GDBP chair. (He could not be reached for comment as of press time.)

Board directors have been appointed on staggered terms of one, two and three years. The GDBP board will advertise any future spots, with recommendations coming to MODG council for appointments and reappointments.

Joining Williams, who will serve a three-year term, are Ann Marie Bagnall (three-year term), Seawind Landing owner-operator and Guysborough and Area Board of Trade chair; Thomas Grover (three years), Tor Bay Fisheries president; Mike Feltmate (two years), East Coast Hydraulics president; Alison Myers (two years), Guysborough PharmaChoice owner-pharmacist; Fraser Cook (one year), Robin’s Gas Bar owner-operator; and Tera Dorrington (one year), CECGA vice principal.

With the latter appointment – someone from the education community – municipal officials say it helps meet its focus on “having a direct connection to high-school age students.”

Pitts explains that having representation from that area is important, considering that today’s students will form an important part of the workforce that will hopefully benefit from GDBP’s initiatives.

“We want to help them be prepared for what is happening,” he says of providing students with a “head’s up” on opportunities as they develop, while also receiving feedback – through the board representative – from that key demographic.

The founding board will elect its vice president and secretary-treasurer.

Along with MacDonald, an MODG elected official – at this time, Councillor Paul Long – will be an ex-officio member of the GDBP board.

As the GDBP launches, Pitts offers that there “will, no doubt, be tweaking going forward,” as the founding board comes together and develops.

He expects the initiative to make “great inroads,” when it comes to providing the MODG with “certain missing pieces of the puzzle,” when it comes to economic growth and prosperity.

Describing the municipality – as he often does – as the “best kept secret,” Pitts expects the GDBP to play a key role in not only letting people know what MODG “has to offer,” but also “how easy it is to locate here.”

While unveiling GDBP, municipal officials say its creation “demonstrates their confidence in the municipality’s future, and the need to convey that message to local business owners and private sector investors.”