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I received a call today from a town resident who wanted to discuss the new Economic Development Officer (EDO) and my thoughts on whether the Town needed this position. Picking up my copy of the North Star a bit later and reading the editorial I understood where the question came from. The editorial suggested that the EDO position really wasn’t something the Town should invest in. I wish they would have thought about it a bit more. My sense is that the position is absolutely necessary.

The EDO position has much the same responsibilities that I held in Business Development working with multi-billion dollar corporations making investments globally. We were expected to identify opportunities, assess their contribution to the bottom line and, as approved by management, get the deals done.

The thing you quickly realize doing this type of job is that your responsibility is not only to identify and get the best deals done, your job is also to identify the opportunities that don’t make sense, and make the business case to walk away from them. Management often has their pet projects that they want to see done, sometimes because they ‘have a feeling’, and sometimes because they figure it will enhance their career prospects if successful. And if it’s not, well they can just move on before the you know what hits the fan. The job of the EDO or Business Development Officer is to understand the risks and make sure management doesn’t enter into a deal with an inflated sense of opportunity.

Looking back over my career I’m as proud of the deals that I turned down as those that I completed. In many cases, it took courage to stand up to senior management and make the argument that the idea wasn’t in the best interests of the company. It’s not easy, but it’s very necessary.

Right now, the Town is looking at multiple business investment opportunities being suggested by Council (aka Senior Management). Someone with real world experience needs to look at these opportunities, develop the business case, calculate the net present values (NPV) of the opportunities, and provide an opinion. The Town of Parry Sound doesn’t have that experience on staff. Hiring a consultant to do this type of job would be much, much more expensive, and they wouldn’t have any ’skin in the game’. If a consultant makes a mistake they just walk on to the next job and blame failure on poor ‘execution’ by the client. The individual being hired for the EDO position in Parry Sound seems as though they will have some ownership.

Doing a little bit of Sunshine List research reveals that Mr. Harris, the new EDO, earned a little more than $260,000 plus $16,000 in benefits in 2013. Someone thought he was pretty good.

I will take the North Star to task for a little bit of sloppy research. They stated that the current Town of Parry Sound debt is $1.5 million, and that figure will rise to $4.2 million in 2021. Oh, I wish! That’s just the carrying cost for the Town’s debt, basically the annual ‘mortgage payment’. According to 2017 budget documents the Town expects to carry about $24 million in debt by the end of 2017, which will drop to $20 million by 2021 if no additional capital investments are made. If one adds in the projects being discussed, the Town’s debt may rise to over $40 million in five years.

We currently have one member of Council who seems to be ready to go ‘all in’ with Town capital projects in hopes of stimulating more business and tax revenue. My worry is this individual doesn’t really have the experience to judge these opportunities and seems to not have a long term interest in Parry Sound, and probably won’t be here five years from now. It will be left to others to clean up any mess that may be left behind. But that’s being pessimistic, these suggestions may very well prove to be the type of investments that the Town needs to make and will pay off ‘hugely’.

That is exactly why we need an Economic Development Officer on staff. We need the expertise on staff to assess the many proposals that will come from Council and businesses, and make their best recommendation. Hopefully Mr. Harris will focus on the interests of the Town’s residents and businesses, not the egos of elected officials. Sometimes the best deal you ever made is the deal you didn’t make.

I’d rather be paying a little bit more and having the full attention of an EDO rather than trying to get a share of a regional EDO with too many constituencies to please.

Welcome aboard Mr. Harris. We very much need your contribution.