Mayor gives the business community his take on our economic health. “We are in good shape”. Really?

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  January 26, 2012  He managed to get through a 25 minute speech without once saying a word about The Pier,  but did tell the Burlington Chamber of Commerce, State of the City audience that the city is in good shape.

Mayor Rick Goldring chose to point to the opportunities and left his audience with the impression that the challenges we have are all manageable without detailing just what those challenges are.  The deficit the city faces with its infrastructure; the very real political problems he faces with the re-development of the Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital, where he has to front $60 million of the $300 million cost and hope that he can survive the damage when the province doesn’t come through with their portion of the funding in 2014 – which is an election year for the Mayor.  Goldring opened the kimono just a little when he said: “…we didn’t anticipate the timing of the announcement or the fact that the city taxpayers along with donours have to front end $60 million each over the next six years.”  Mr. Mayor, if the provincial government does it to you once – you just know they are going to at least try to do it to you again, so don’t bend over.

Old Lakeshore precinct continues to be "the jewel" that has yet to find a crown.

No mention was made of the opportunity to play a leading role in the development of the Mainway Beach west of Spencer Smith Park, that has been languishing for more than a decade.  That opportunity, to do some significant and very innovative development in that part of the city, looks as if it is going to get away from us and be in the hands of the Conservation Authority, because Burlington hasn’t come forward with any solid plans or initiatives.  The Waterfront Advisory Committee has let the city down terribly on this one.  It had the opportunity to develop and present some creative ideas that would offer some solutions to make much more out of the western beach and the Old Lakeshore precinct.  The Mayor can’t do it all.

While things appear to be under control with the plans the province had to ram a road right through Lowville, the fact is that the Minister who told the Mayor that the road would not be built is no longer the Minister responsible for transportation.  Saying “we are committed to keep our 50/50 rural urban split, meaning that all new development must occur south of the Dundas-407 corridor” is one thing.  Putting a stake through the heart of the idea of an Escarpment highway is another matter.  The Mayor is going to have to rely on rookie MP Jane McKenna to ensure that we don’t get horn swoggled by the province should they try to argue that Burlington is going to have to take it on the chin for the greater good of the province and all those jobs that will result in trucks being able to roar across the Escarpment with products bound for the U S of A.

Thordon Bearings, a Burlington based technology company with a bullet proof vest made out of patents and trade secrets. Burlington could use a few more of these.

The American economy is in such poor shape that Burlington would be better selling products to China and India.  We would be even better off if we could create intellectual property industries and sell ideas and technology to South America and some of the developing countries.  Thordon Bearings and EcoSynthetix are great examples of what we are capable of – and at that level Mayor Goldring was dead on when he talked about the opportunities for on-going executive education at the McMaster DeGroote School on the South Service Road.  The disappointing point the Mayor made was that less than 4% of the McMaster business students who do a co-op program – there were in excess of 140 of them in 2011 – worked with Burlington based companies.  This city is letting top notch talent work on co-op programs with companies outside of the city – probably our competitors.  We should be and could be providing at least 20% of those students with co-op opportunities.  Not because we want to give them work experience but because we want to be able to pick their brains and use their developing skills and energy.  They  just might find a future vice president as well.

Burlington has been on the cusp of breaking through an economic barrier for a number of years but the city doesn’t have any class A office space.  Hopes have reigned supreme for more than a decade for the development of some first class office space.  Goldring told his audience there are three major development applications approved several years ago – but there are no shovels in the ground yet.  Can he use a cattle prod to get something moving on this? Someone is going to have to get very creative and put together a development in the downtown core that involves the federal and provincial governments who will take some space in a new building to ensure it is economically feasible for the first five years.  You know the phrase – if you build a better mousetrap they will come – but you have to put some cheese in that mousetrap.  We seem to have forgotten that.

Is Brant street going to see some class A office space or will it always be retail that is consistently challenged to be viable?

An appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board for a change to the Official Plan that would allow for more height on property at Brant and James Street favoured the developer who can now put up seven floors as of right and can ask for an additional three floors.  The understanding within the Planning department is that the developer will make it a mixed use building with retail on the ground floor and both residential and commercial above that.  The developer used the same model for another development five or six blocks north on Brant and one block east where a 17 story building, a parking garage and a smaller structure that hopes to attract medical practitioners.

The city’s heritage problems didn’t get as much as a mention but the Performing Arts Centre got the favourable comments it has gotten since the day it opened.  However, no one is saying anything about what the revenue and expense number for the BPAC look like.

The Mayor did announce one very interesting program that is just being launched.  InnovateBurlington is an intern program that was put together by an advisory committee that saw the need for an innovative, entrepreneurial community of graduate students who could gain some meaningful work experience during which they would develop strategic projects for local corporations.  Burlington needs a little more ginger in its commercial diet.

Innovate Burlington is a partnership between the BEDC, the city, the Chamber of Commerce, The Centre for Skills Development and Training and McMaster University.  These were the founding forces that took part of Rick Goldring’s election platform and grew it to the point where it was ready to be made operational and given to the BEDC to operate at least during the early stages.

Serious problems with retaining the really significant heritage homes in the city weren’t addressed.  We can’t be a world class city if we ignore and demolish the important heritage homes.  A city that forgets its roots will, like a tree, eventually topple over.  Freeman Station is still out there waiting to be saved.

Mayor Goldring tells Chamber of Commerce audience that he is just taking care of business.

Mayor Goldring is developing as a speaker.  For some reason he came across as a little rushed this morning – sounded as if he needed to get all the words out before people left the room to get to their offices.  Public speaking can, and should be, entertaining.  It has a pace of its own and hopefully over time Goldring will develop a style that is a little less rushed.  As for content and style it had a line that will certainly get picked up by others and I think you can expect to see it in his campaign literature.  He said the 21st century is going to be about the ability to learn, unlearn and relearn.  He can put that on a T shirt and win an election on it.  And make no mistake about it – short of a calamity, Goldring is a two term Mayor and maybe even three.   Based on what we have seen so far from this man – we should be so lucky.

Whenever you talk to someone who has lived in Burlington for more than ten years you will hear again and again how great a city this is to live in.  It does have great geography going for it – but it doesn’t have much in the way of buzz going for it.

We talk about the high tech, high paying jobs we want to attract.  The people who do the innovative thinking at work need a city that is innovative, fresh, growing with at least some excitement in it.  Goldring clearly underlined that point when he said: “the state of a city is an attitude, a feeling, a level of confidence about how things are going”.  We are confident – are we complacent as well?



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