Town again rejects plea to hire economic development officer

KINGSVILLE — Town council has said no again to the hiring of an economic development officer.

And it marks the second time this year that Dennis Rogers, co-owner of Green Heart Kitchen, has been frustrated in his efforts to have the town hire someone to promote local tourism and help local business recoup some of the losses suffered during COVID-19 shutdowns.

“We’re asking you to say yes to economic recovery and a tourism officer.” Rogers, who represents a number of the local businesses, told council Monday. “We have gone through the right channels. Now is the time for our council to do the right thing and say yes.”

But council wasn’t able to overcome a procedural hurdle to allow a vote on a report prepared by town administration recommending the hiring of temporary full-time economic development officer.

Because council had already turned down hiring a development officer earlier this year, it had to vote to reconsider that decision before it could vote on a recommendation very similar to one turned down earlier.

Council voted not to reconsider the earlier decision.

“I think what the business community asked for is not what is described in this report and as described in (the proposal) council originally turned down,” said Coun. Kimberly DeYong.

In an interview, DeYong said council rejected hiring an economic development officer earlier this year because it felt it was more important to fill other administrative positions.

The town ended up approving the hiring of a town solicitor, a communications officer and a director to administer the building, planning and recreation departments.

DeYong said she feels the town does not need an economic development officer.

She said the town has plenty of development and town staff is working overtime dealing with existing growth.

She said she will be speaking with town clerk Jennifer Astrologo about bringing forward a motion so the issue of hiring an official to help local businesses recover from the COVID shutdowns can be discussed.

“We do have budget stabilization funds that are available to us if money is required for this purpose. So ultimately this comes down to whether or not this is a good business decision for the town.

“So, I’m going to reach out to the clerk and try to bring forward a motion that is not the same as what we denied back in January and is more in keeping with what I believe the business community has asked for.” DeYong said.

Coun. Tony Gaffan voted in favour of reconsideration.

“I just want to thank Dennis and the businesses that have enough guts to say, we’re in the game, we’re the ones digging deep for everybody, we need a helping hand,” he said.

Gaffan said the town would receive “value” hiring an economic development officer.

Director of finance Ryan McLeod said the town has a pool of $600,000 in COVID relief funds it could use to hire a temporary, full-time economic development officer.

He said some of that funding will be used to share in the cost of mass vaccination clinics.

“I don’t want to be accused of holding on to a bag of money and holding back what (council thinks) is important,” McLeod said. “We do have budget stabilization funds that are available to us if money is required for this purpose.

“So ultimately this comes down to whether or not this is a good business decision for the town.”

He noted Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island also provides tourist promotion for the region, but said a development officer would help businesses recover from the shutdowns.

Earlier, council was told Kingsville needs to view itself as a “brand” and hire someone to promote the town’s attractions, market the town as a tourism destination and attract new development.

Natalie Cobby works for the town as a part-time tourism co-ordinator.

Mark Somerville, a member of the town’s tourism and business development committee, told council the town is competing for economic development and tourism dollars with towns and cities across Ontario.

“Think large vision, but act in a manner that serves Kingsville … our personality.” he said. “I think if this person was hired, he or she could go a long way to giving us the brand identification,” he said.

Somerville is a former marketing executive with Adidas, a German multinational company specializing in apparel, footwear and sports equipment.

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