Mayoral candidates offer ideas on how to support business

SooToday asked all five mayoral candidates how they would lead the charge in supporting and growing business in the Sault

The five mayoral candidates for the upcoming municipal election responded to how they would support and grow business as mayor of Sault Ste. Mary.

Ozzie Grandinetti

Grandinetti says the city has been stagnant for jobs in the last 40 years, and in order to support the businesses that are already here, he’d like to lower commercial industrial taxes and remove red tape.

“Small businesses are the backbone of every municipality in this country,” he says. “One of the biggest problems in this province is the high cost to do business in general. The main way to keep business in the community is to support what we have here and keep our taxes lower.”

Grandinetti says certain councilors haven’t done anything to fix an increasingly worse situation for downtown business owners and notes there’s an affordable option that should be considered to help monitor the issue and protect their storefronts.

“Years ago, they used to have the Sault College law enforcement classes walking along downtown as part of their course,” he says. “They would have two kids walking all of downtown. I would strongly support that again. Even if you have to pay these guys minimum wage – it’s something to entice them to get out there.”

Grandinetti says more needs to be done from a tourism perspective to attract visitors to come here and support local businesses.

“We’ve had ships dock recently, but what’s there for the people to do when they come off the ship? Unless they line these people up to go on the Agawa tour train, there’s nowhere for these people to go. What can we get here in Sault Ste. Marie that’s going to attract people to come here? Nobody can answer that question.”

Donna Hilsinger

In an email to SooToday, Hilsinger says the city must support its existing local businesses of all sizes and their efforts to innovate and grow their markets and revenues. She also says she would focus on diversifying the city’s economy by attracting growing industries like clean/green energy, sustainable industry, personal services, and biotechnology.

Hilsinger notes that a tourism strategy must be implemented to continue supporting the businesses that rely on out-of-towners.

“We’ve had some great things happen in the last couple of years on the tourism side,” she says. “Tourism product developments are a very important part of attracting people and keeping people here longer. We need to identify how we want to grow the impact of tourism on our economy, and how we’re going to get there. It’s going to need private and public investment.”

Hilsinger’s other plans include:

  • Eliminating municipal red tape for business. Remove barriers making it easier to do business in the Sault. Adopt a one-window customer focused approach to access city services
  • Identify city services for businesses that can be digitized and establish a plan to implement
  • Strategically invest in our quality-of-life attributes to differentiate our city from our competition
  • Update the Tourism strategic plan and create a tourism product development investment plan. Support the growth of local tourism products through ongoing investment in the tourism development fund, product development activities and business attraction
  • Ensure our labor force can meet the needs of business
  • Review current economic development incentives for effectiveness. Identify what should be added, discontinued, or improved
  • Support shop local campaigns

Tobin Kern

Kern says he recognizes the Sault has done a reasonably good job of advertising the business community outside of town, but he says there are other things the city can be doing to support the owners who rely on a local customer base.

“We can help small business by increasing the amount of disposable income that people have to support those businesses,” he says. “We need to ensure there are jobs, that people are employed, and that they have access to income.”

“With a high rate of employment, likely you’ll have pressures on employers to pay more, and then you have more disposable income that can be injected into the local economy,” he adds.

Kern believes a quick way to inject more disposable income into the community is by investing in transit.

“If we invest in transit and offer a transit alternative where people could go down to being a one car family, not only would it get cars off the road and help address climate change objectives, but it would put more money back into people’s pockets, ” he says.

Kern says some of the social issues like homelessness and addiction must be addressed to provide stability to current business owners, particularly in the downtown core.

“If you have a storefront, you may have increased security costs, and there may be theft costs related to property damage from crime that’s related to the addictions epidemic,” he says. “You have to look at the pressures that these crises put on the city, and potentially the unknown of tax increases.”

“To address it by policing is a short-term solution and would be expensive,” he adds.

Robert Peace

In an email to SooToday, Peace says the city needs a paradigm shift in community thinking to help support and grow business in the Sault.

“The community must give in the way of taxes and support of local business and business must come together and see how they can invest back into the community they serve,” he says. “Municipal governments can listen to business to see how they can make life easier and clear the path for growth so everyone wins.”

Peace would like to see business owners be granted an easier and more logistic path to city response when requesting assistance.

“In the municipal system we have the bureaucrats who administer bylaws and regulations and we have politicians who need to have the time to look at individual concerns and bring them to the attention of the appropriate departments if warranted,” he says.

“In a way, I see the mayor as an advocate for the public and business when things don’t quite fit into the standard response. We need an easier path for businesses to be heard and a quicker response to their needs,” he adds.

Peace also wants more attention devoted to the downtown and waterfront when it comes to supporting businesses, particularly the mall.

“We need to work with the new owner of Station Mall, who I have met personally, and find a way to integrate the mall with the downtown and the waterfront of which it should be part of and hopefully use some space for increased residential to ensure we have a vibrant city core.”

Matthew Shoemaker

Over the course of a term, Shoemaker says he would be committed to increasing the community development fund from $500,000 a year to $1 million to support business expansion and retention in the Sault.

“I think there’s more that we can do there by increasing the fund to further incentivize places like Tenaris or Algoma, or on a smaller scale, assist other companies with offsetting the costs of expansion or acquisition of new equipment,” he says. It’s a good pot of money and it’s available for a diverse number of business needs.”

While Shoemaker recognizes that attracting new business to the city is important, he explains there’s already an existing pool of employees that could work remotely in the Sault.

“In this new economy, we should be going directly for employees to get established here as remote workers,” he says. “I’ve pounded for many years on the issue of all the OLG jobs being in Sault Ste. Mary. That’s one where I think is the most obvious place where we can expand an existing workforce to a greater number of Sault employees.”

For the last two years, Shoemaker has been pushing for a downtown trolley pilot program, which he believes will provide a boost to tourism and ultimately help support the businesses along the downtown core.

“Our downtown’s big – it’s a long stretch from the Canal District to the Bushplane,” he says. “But if you had a hop-on, hop-off trolley, you could stop everywhere along Queen Street. It’s a way to maximize the revenue of people who are already visiting the Sault.”

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