With an eye toward bettering the community’s economic future, city council threw its unanimous initial support behind a strategy that focuses on retaining and supporting existing businesses, while attracting new industry as well as enhanced tourism opportunities.
That’s the approach approved Monday afternoon by council’s committee of the whole as it endorsed a new economic development and tourism strategy that includes such direction as attracting talent for local industries, establishing an annual employment survey to identify workforce trends/needs, and marketing of the city-owned Guelph Junction Railway.
“This is an excellent report,” commented Mayor Cam Guthrie, who moved the motion of support.
“I’m really excited by the direction we are going,” added Coun. Leanne Caron, who seconded the motion of support.
The committee’s support will be up for formal council ratification on Jan. 31.
Other action items highlighted in the strategy report include establishing an inventory of promotable land opportunities for investment; creating an investment attraction website; working with regional municipalities, colleges, universities and others to “identify sport, group and conference assets”; and establishing an Entrepreneur of the Year award, among other initiatives.
If ultimately approved, the five-year strategy would be reviewed in 2025 with an update expected in 2026.
“No one has a crystal ball to predict the next five years,” commented John Regan, the city’s general manager of economic development and tourism. “We don’t know what we don’t know.”
In addition to council support, the strategy was endorsed by delegates from Business Centre Guelph Wellington and Downtown Guelph Business Association, as well as written support from Guelph Chamber of Commerce.
The strategy includes charging a proposed four per cent Municipal Accomodation Tax (MAT) on hotel stays to fund activities under its new proposed economic development and tourism strategy.
If set at that level, the tax is expected to generate between $500,000 and $800,000 annually.
Council is slated to consider the new tax next month.
“A lot of details will be within that report,” said Regan.
If approved, half the tax money is to be put toward "new and enhanced destination management projects and programs,” the staff report states. That, Regan previously told GuelphToday, could include the creation of packages with accommodation and tickets to a local show or sports game.
The other half would be used to pay an outside organization to create destination marketing for the city.
Asked during the committee meeting about what the impact of hotel stay taxes in other municipalities has been, Regan said they’ve “all been very, very positive.”
Noting many of the strategy’s proposed action items include non-commitments – using language like “investigate,” “explore” and “develop” – Caron said implementation of the various efforts should be in full swing by 2027, when the city will celebrate its bicentennial.
“That’s going to be a big event,” she said.
Deputy CAO Colleen Clack-Bush noted a bicentennial celebrations report will be presented to council during the next term, following the municipal election this coming October.
Coun. James Gordon raised concerns about the arts industry’s potential contribution to tourism not being specifically highlighted in the strategy report, but city staff assured him those efforts are underway and a report with recommendations will be presented to council in the future.
Coun. Cathy Downer stressed the importance of including the city’s heritage offerings in tourism planning, pointing to a previous Doors Open Guelph event which she said attracted 7,000 visitors.
Councillors Dan Gibson and June Hofland were absent from the committee meeting, meaning the unanimous support vote tally was 10-0.