If Elliot Lake can do it-why can't Pelham? This question posed by my fellow Director of the Pelham Business Association, Lance Wiebe, at last week's Economic Forum for Small Business, continues to resonate with me. Since the early 1990's after the local mining industry collapsed Elliot Lake began to look elsewhere for its survival. This remote Northern Ontario community with a population of less than 12,000 people developed a strategic economic vision and began to successfully market itself as an affordable retirement destination.
What is our economic vision for Pelham? According to the most recent (2007) update of the Town's Corporate Strategic Plan the opening statement of the vision for our Town reads as follows: The Town of Pelham is known as a friendly, peaceful place where residents enjoy the best of both worlds: thriving commercial centres, boutique stores, protected agricultural land and green space.
However, based upon the presentations made at the Economic Forum last week, "thriving" may not exactly be the most applicable adjective to describe the current business climate in Niagara. According to key note speaker, Robin Eaglesham, the "recession is alive and well in Ontario" and Niagara with an unemployment rate of 8.8% in December had the highest rate of all major Ontario centres except Windsor.
Now may be an ideal time to for the Pelham community to pull together and emerge as an economic growth stimulator. Completion of the East Fonthill Secondary Plan and the servicing of the applicable land area brings with it the business opportunity associated with a potential 30% increase in our population base. What do we want this new growth to look like? The Town strategic plan already stipulates that the East Fonthill development must respect the principles of accessibility, walk ability and connectivity so that Pelham can maintain its "small town" feel.
Why don't we take our Town vision statement a step further and translate it into an all encompassing marketing message that can serve to unite and promote our entire community? Perhaps our theme will not be retirement but a more holistic, multi-generational, sustainable living centred focus. I invite you to Google the European planning initiative "Citta Slow". Take the time. Pelham is our Town. It is up to us to participate and make the Pelham Corporate Strategic Plan a living, breathing document rather than an obsolete management tool.