Ontario East Economic Development Commission (OEEDC) unifies 200 communities and thousands of businesses

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Priorities: Skills development, research and transportation systems

Ontario Construction Report special feature

The Ontario East Economic Development Commission (OEEDC) represents more than 200 communities in 13 counties and including 10 cities and stretches east from Kawartha Lakes to the Quebec border and south from Haliburton and Renfrew County to the St. Lawrence Seaway. It represents the interests of thousands of businesses and almost two million residents.

Executive director Bonnie O’Neill says the united organization originated in 1988 as an opportunity to share resources in promotion of an eastern Ontario presence. “From there, through the strength of relationships and co-operation, and opportunities that extend beyond geography, we have grown.”

O’Neill says it is both a challenge and a unique opportunity to represent and highlight the vast and diverse interests of the region, which, in terms of land mass, is roughly the size of New Brunswick. “Our target sectors include advanced manufacturing, food processing, investment tourism, logistics and transportation and rural opportunities.”

In the transportation sector, she says people may be surprised by the strength in transportation logistics supported by highways 401 and 417, rail, air and seaway options, and a triangle that encompasses Toronto, Montreal and New York. “Cornwall for instance has developed into a bit of a hub for getting product across the border quickly.”

O’Neill says the region supports a number of multinational corporations in the food service sector, through a strong supply chain of supply coming in and product going out. “The Boyd Company Inc., a U.S. based site selection firm, recently conducted an analysis on the cost of doing business in a variety of areas and we ranked as most cost effective for the sectors of food, advanced manufacturing and distribution.”

Manufacturing, through small and medium sized companies, is already abundant in the region, and includes Renfrew based Herb Shaw & Son’s Limited, believed to be Canada’s oldest lumber company and oldest, continually run family business and Guildline Instruments, manufacturer of ultra-precise instruments for the fields of metrology and oceanography used worldwide and located in Smiths Falls.

The region, she says, is also supported by a strong and dedicated workforce. “There is a small town feel and commitment that is prevalent in the area and results in a low staff turnover and dedication that is evident across the region and that employers find attractive.”

That, she says, is one of the reasons that the Kingston Economic Development Corporation and the City of Kingston were able to announce recently a $225 million investment by China Feihe International Inc. for its new Canadian infant formula manufacturing operation.

O’Neill says the region also benefits from dedicated funding programs. The Eastern Ontario Development Fund (EODF), a provincial program that offers $1.5 million grants to support “projects that will create Canadian jobs, improve competitiveness, and support innovation” and the Eastern Ontario Development Program (EODP), a federal initiative intended to “advance economic development in rural eastern Ontario.”

She says the OEEDC has three distinct priorities: Skills development that includes working with universities and colleges to ensure manufacturers have access to a rapid response in their workforce, both through new hires and training opportunities for existing staff; determining research needed to identify and prepare for the jobs that will be required in the future; and maintaining a focus on transportation systems to support the flow of goods into and out of the region.

As part of this focus, the commission is currently mapping all of its businesses across all sectors, as a way of identifying and facilitating connections that will further support the local supply chain. O’Neill says there is a continuous focus on furthering the relationships that are at the base of the organization, and fostering new opportunities.

“Eastern Ontario is a wonderfully diverse region, which the people who live here have always known and more are coming to realize. We are both close to the fast lane and equally connected to a slower way of life with all of the recreation and lifestyle opportunities that involves.”

For more information, visit http://ontarioeast.ca.

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