I appreciate the call to action outlined in a recent letter by George Hood and Bernie Robinson (Oct. 1, City Needs To Get In the Game) — that we should pursue a more ambitious economic development agenda for Kingston. As an economist, that’s an issue I understand, and from knocking on more than 15 000 doors in my mayoral campaign, I know it’s an issue that resonates with voters across demographic groups in all parts of our city.
There’s a lot more that we can do to realize our full potential, and we should start by narrowing our focus to pursue our best economic opportunities. The context is a larger strategy: we need to hang on to our flatlined public payrolls while sustaining our existing small businesses and pursuing private sector growth. In fields such as defence or health, we can leverage our public sector assets to stimulate new start-ups, economic growth, investment and jobs. There may also be unique opportunities for Kingston to explore in emerging technologies, agri-business, and education services developed outside our publicly funded institutions.
We should also build on recent successes — like the arrival of Grafoid, an advanced technology and graphite research company setting up shop in Innovation Park, or the promise of Chobani Yogurt’s selection of Kingston as its future Canadian base of operations. We must also respond to challenges — such as youth unemployment, the need for innovation as well as the tools that support entrepreneurship — incubation facilities, service/supply networks and venture capital investment.
Here are some specific strategies I’ve been discussing with the community – concrete actions we can take to move our local economy forward:
1. Focus: Target a select group of industries or sectors in which Kingston has a competitive advantage relative to other regions and work to create a cluster of companies within them.
2. Speed: Reduce red tape, delays and unnecessary costs faced by new start-up companies in Kingston.
3. Support: Support incubators, programs and incentives to encourage more entrepreneurship and innovation.
3. Priorities: Encourage city council to provide the political backing needed to make economic development our priority, as a means to secure and improve our quality of life.
In turn, a stronger local economy will enhance our capacity to fund social services, support cultural initiatives and grow the tax base to preserve front-line services while living within our means as a municipality. It’s what I call “moving forward together”, and I’m prepared to lead an energetic response to the economic challenges laid out in their letter.