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Nov. 14, 2018 | Wednesday
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Council candidates all business at chamber meeting
Candidates wait for their turn to address the audience at the community centre meeting hosted by the Chamber of Commerce last week.

There are 24 candidates hoping to win one of eight seats around the Niagara-on-the-Lake council table in the Oct. 22 municipal election.

At the NOTL Chamber of Commerce candidates meeting Thursday, each of them was given three minutes to answer the same question, which they had been given in advance: if elected, what would they do to support local business.

Norm Arsenault began with what he would not support — an accommodation tax. It's regressive, he said, "and we have other options." 

As a councillor, he would identify short-term rentals, B&Bs and Airbnbs, mandate all be licensed, and require landlords to be available. He would keep abreast of new services such as the Niagara Region Broadbent Network to improve business communications, and would recommend council form an economic development task force of local professionals with a mandate to attract new industry such large logistics centres, head offices and information technology firms to the Glendale industrial park.

These initiatives will increase revenue and keep residential and commercial taxes stable, said Arsenault.

The town needs sustainable development and infrastructure upgrades for a flourishing tourism industry, and an updated Official Plan and  transportation master plan. "We can't manage without them. Gridlock is coming to Virgil if we don't take immediate action."

Allan Bisback is retired from Canada Post where he set up post office franchises, and before that was vice-president of sales for  Sobeys. While government can't directly drive business growth, he said, municipalities can create the right environment to facilitate business. 

While speaking to business owners recently, he learned they face several problems — rules are not consistently applied, nor are they well-understood, even by town staff, he said. The level of bureaucracy is a burden, sign bylaws are "horrible," and licensing is not applied fairly. Overall, he said, town staff is not providing encouragement to business, rather they are creating hurdles to successfully navigating required obstacles. "Town staff need to be there to help businesses," he said.

If elected, he promised to listen, consult and be available. He would work with the NOTL Chamber of Commerce and the Virgil Business Association, and with his background in customer service and business, he could help smooth out the process, eliminating unnecessary steps and ensuring the overall process will improve.

Simon Bentall could not be at the meeting because of family illness in the UK, so moderator Paul MacIntyre read his response to the question on Bentall's behalf.

Bentall is the owner of the Scottish Loft on Queen Street, and before that ran a small accommodation rental business in town.

He believes without the hospitality industry and farming NOTL would not be what it is today.

Should the issue arise, he would put a "full-stop to the stupid idea" of closing Queen Street to vehicles. It would add to congestion and illegal parking on side streets, he said.

He would like to see the old hospital site used for additional parking, and for pop-up markets, with crafts and merchandise not already sold on Queen Street, as well as with seasonal markets such as at Christmas to bring more people to town during the off-season. He would also like to see a committee of people from all sectors of industry to work with the Chamber of Commerce and the Town, he said. 

To aid business and residents, he would like a more regular transit route linking all five communities of NOTL, alleviating some of the traffic concerns. It's been tried in the past, but was not well-marketed, he said. A connection hub would benefit wineries, tourism and residents, and would lessen the need for people to drive.

Crispin Bottomley has degrees in political science and education from Brock University. He has worked in the tourism and transportation industry, seeing business from all aspects both locally and across Canada as a member and now president of Junior Commerce International of Canada.

He believes in collaboration between business and the municipality, he said, which holds the promise of significant progress, long-term growth, resilience and improved quality of life.

He suggested consulting with business and the chamber early in the term. He would encourage residents to shop locally, including Niagara College students, and would expand transit to assist that initiative. He would also address the seasonality of Queen Street, and help farmers get their product to market. He would advocate for the return of the parking committee, have discussions on traffic and work to eliminate obstacles for established businesses.

Through his contacts with Brock University, he would ensure the Brock Niagara Forum for Advanced Research and Leadership is implemented, and would create links to the Goodman School of Business. He also suggested bringing together developers, real estate agents and commercial people to advocate for NOTL as a location within the foreign trade zone, close to the border and an airport.

"And finally, we need to do a better job of economic development, getting out in front of people, meeting here at hotels and conference centres to share what we already know is special," he said.

Mark Brown, past chair of the Oakville Chamber of Commerce, said he would begin by asking the chamber what it wants council to do to help business — what the sensitive points are regarding the chamber's relationship with the Town, and if communication needs improvement. 

Brown said he has participated in roundtable discussions with government ministers, MPs and MPPs and senior business executives, and understands the value of networking. "I would put that kind of skill at your disposal."

If red tape is a problem, he said, "my attitude is red carpet, not red tape. We should make it easy."

Council can be an effective advocate for local business and should be used as that with the chamber, he said.

The synergy between tourism and the grape and wine industry is self-evident  —it's a business success story, said Brown. "I'm not going to walk in and tell anybody what to do. You're already doing it." But it is putting strains on the community, particularly on traffic, he added. He wouldn't however support an accommodation tax, which "misses the mark." Effective bylaw enforcement for B&Bs is not only a safety issue but it also encourages those who operate lawfully, he said. 

The Town needs to look toward the Welland Canal, and seek out prestige industrial businesses that are looking for places to locate, Brown said. 

In recent years, Gary Burroughs has represented the Town both as Lord Mayor and as a Regional councillor. He is running for Town council, he says, because he sees the town changing, and he wants to make sure it changes for the better.

He is a chartered accountant and the former owner of the Oban Inn, which he ran for 38 years, "so I can relate to your issues. The business industry is also changing."

There is now a thriving restaurant and retail sector in Virgil, hotels and the outlet mall in Glendale with plans for expansion in the area, including and a main street, plans for a hotel and more retail space at The Village, wineries continuing to pop up and agri-tourism growing significantly, Burroughs said. Farm operations must be allowed to respond to new business opportunities, he added.

The Town must manage change, and cannot deal with development as a "one-off." There needs to be a co-ordinated plan, working with the Province and the Region and focusing on tourism, he said, with infrastructure, parking facilities and alternate transportation to get tourists and staff to businesses.

Burroughs said his priority is to improve the dealings between council, Town staff and taxpayers. "Town staff exists for the sole purpose of serving taxpayers," he said. Communication with residents and businesses must also improve. "We need to know where our taxes go and that we only pay our fair share," he said. "Taxpayers should know how they can be heard, and believe that they will be."

Also to improve communications, the lord mayor should meet monthly with the chamber, the Virgil Business Association and ratepayers associations, co-ordinate with council and respond proactively, he said.

Clare Cameron has a master's degree in history, an MBA from the Goodman School of Business. She also has a decade of work experience in the municipal sector, and is now with the City of Burlington where she manages the intelligence data program implementing data analytics for service performance measurement. She's running for council to preserve what makes NOTL unique, she said, including encouraging success for local independent and family-run businesses.  As a councillor, she said, she will cut red tape at the town hall, "and this is no catch phrase for me. It's what I do in real life." Throughout her career she has redesigned public processes for municipal  services. "Efficiency is at the heart of my current role and I will apply this way of thinking as a town councillor." 

To support tourism, she said, she would encourage visitors who would stay multiple nights, see more of the villages and spend more money on local goods and services. Cameron said NOTL needs to be marketed as an attractive place to visit and do business year round, with more effective traffic management. She would like to see an economic hub of local services and entrepreneurs, and would request creation of an open data program to share information and assist businesses in strategic panning.

She said she would be ready to produce tangible results as a councillor from day one, and to be a strong voice and advocate for business at the council table.

Wendy Cheropita has worked in senior marketing roles with global wine companies and in the Ontario wine industry. She led the Ontario Wine Industry marketing strategy, where consensus-building and collaborative planning resulted in double digit sales growth each year and increased tourism visitors. Today, she's a small-business strategic planning consultant, 

The Town needs to remove barriers and streamline the permit processes for new and existing businesses, she said, focusing on building and maintaining a strong and healthy business community.

Tourism is a vital part of the economy, and the Town needs a well-funded tourism strategy for attracting and retaining high-value tourists, she said. Cheropita also suggested exploring ideas for moving tourists through the community and pro-actively attracting businesses that provide services for residents, such as doctors, dentists and retailers. The town needs businesses that provide high-value jobs for young people, and should identify and recruit certain sectors such as research and technology to the Glendale area.

The heritage tax rebate program needs to be explored, and solutions found to help local retailers. "There are some wonderful best-practices available," she said, adding she is not in favour of an accommodation tax. She would like to keep taxes low, provide exceptional customer service and help drive smart growth.

Terry Davis was unable to attend due to a long-planned anniversary trip, but in a submission read by MacIntyre, he said he was visiting cities steeped in history, cities where people visit from all over the world to experience heritage buildings, parks, gardens and culture, and enjoy the local ambience.

Tourism in those cities is an economic driver, and the same holds true in NOTL, he said, where its historic buildings, cultural and natural heritage, streetscapes, greenspaces and tree canopies make it a wonderful place to live. Tourists make a significant contribution to the economy, he said, and the town can't afford to lose them.

Preserving heritage and saying no to development that does not reflect the heritage of town is the most important thing council can do to protect businesses, Davis said in his response. Council must update the OP to help keep the town what it is, one of the most beautiful towns in the world, which will continue to attract tourists and businesses. Residents and farmers are the heart of the community, and Davis wants to be their voice on council. 

"The main economic driver in NOTL is tourism," said Dennis Dick, business owner and former town councillor. Tourists support the hotels, restaurants, B&Bs, the Shaw Festival and Music Niagara, while agri-tourism supports the wineries, breweries, roadside stands and farmers markets.

Council's job is to provide safe roads and get the tourists to their destinations, and with the congestion on Regional Rd. 55, the main thoroughfare into town, council needs to press the Region to build a third lane and keep traffic flowing. Council must also meet the parking challenges in the Old Town, possibly by using in the former hospital parking lot.

Widening roads and adding bicycle lanes would help rural businesses, wineries, and fruit stands, he said, adding council needs a 10-year plan for road improvements and better signage for way-finding, Dick said, thanking the chamber for promoting NOTL as the premier place to visit in Canada.

Terry Flynn has spent 21 years on town council. As a lifelong resident in NOTL he worked at the Shaw Festival growing up, in stores on Queen Street, and at the Stagecoach Restaurant. He is now  superintendent of operations with EMS. He has also been a volunteer firefighter for 35 years and a member of the NOTL Lions Club.

"I give back to this community. That's what I was taught," he said. He encouraged residents to get to know their neighbours and trust those in the community. He trusts people with great talent in the community who work with the Town on issues, such as the B&B Association — the Town needs to review rules to deal with Airbnbs, he said.

The community centre, the library and the purchase of NOTL Hydro are all testament to what has been accomplished, he said. 'I trust people in the community. It's working." The Town does have traffic problems, he said, "but together I think we can make it work." Residents need to put faith in the people who run the town, who are invested in the town — the Town doesn't need a lot of small committees, he said.

It's not just about new people people, he added, it's also about those who "have experience and a track record for making things work."

Lauren Goettler and her husband bought a historic home in town, and have come to love it — the people, the architecture, wineries, green apace and culture. Recently the Town has been challenged in controlling its destiny, she said, and council has been unable to make the necessary decisions to control growth, including the potential demolition of properties such as the Randwood Estate.

She and her husband own eight businesses with 278 employes. "I know how to run a business," she said. She wasn't looking for a job when she decided to run for council — she made that decision because she loves this town and she thinks she can guide it in the right direction. She will donate her salary to a local charity, and is challenging other candidates to do the same.

The chamber does an excellent job," of supporting business, "and I don't think I can improve on that," Goettler said, adding Glendale is the natural location for attracting world-class businesses, where it wouldn't impact local traffic, and provides quick access to the QEW, the US border and the Niagara District Airport. "All we would need is the GO train." She would also like to see business incentivized for growth, including farming, possibly though the use of property tax credits, she said. 

She plans to use her experience to bring knowledge and integrity to the council table, she said, and will listen, learn and preserve the well-being of all of NOTL, with a new fresh face to promote a "thoughtful and measured" approach that meets the needs of all stakeholders, not just a few special-interest groups.

Gus Koroneos is a lifelong resident of Niagara region, and lives in St. Davids. NOTL is a gem, he said, and needs to be preserved and protected through policies in the Official Plan. 

NOTL attracts 3.5 million visitors each year, from around the world — people who are attracted to the town for its charm, history and heritage. One of his first priorities would be to put policies in place through the community permit planning system, to protect the town "before it's paved over." 

He feels the Niagara District Airport, a great gateway to Niagara which has not yet reached its full potential, should be better promoted, with more flights to more locations.

NOTL gives $12 million to the Region, and with its share of services, "it's apparent the formula is not working," said Koroneos. "It needs to be looked at immediately. I'm up for the challenge."

As a multi-business owner with a diverse background on boards from health to transportation, who practises evidence-based methodology, Koroneos says he is "beholden to no one, and accountable to all of you, the residents of NOTL."

Council needs "skilled, bright diverse people" to participate in debate so council can be successful and the town can move forward, he said.

Family businesses are the backbone and foundation of business in NOTL, said Anne Kurtz-Just — families such as her own, the Penners, the Dietschs, the Enns, Redekopps, DeLaast, Hunters and others play a leading role in the social and economic prosperity of the community. To achieve quality, not quantity of growth, family businesses are charged with passing on the skills of entrepreneurship in NOTL. "We are entrepreneurs, innovators, strategic planners at their finest."

Doing business in NOTL requires "a specialized business degree in itself," she said, with a class in perseverance. There are local pioneers who persevered for the right to farm with innovation, for farmers to be entrepreneurs, and for the right to strategically position their family business to be sustainable for the future, setting precedents for Ontario farmers.

"I bring to the NOTL business community over 30 years of practical knowledge of doing business in this community," she said, with that special degree for small businesses in NOTL, will support business during the next term of council "with perseverance."

Martin Mazza said the NOTL brand needs to be protected — NOTL is the envy of other municipalities. "We own the goose that laid the golden egg."

Mazza is a 25-year businessman in Virgil and member of the VIrgil Business Association, and a member of the NOTL Kinsmen for the last 20 years.

"This is still a small town with intelligent residents who remain engaged," he said. "We have a room full of engaged residents here tonight." 

Mazza said he lives and breathes by the grassroots approach. "It's in my blood."

Working together with residents, sports organizations, service clubs and businesses, he said, would be a benefit to all.

"One councillor cannot do it alone.  That's why there are eight of us," he said, adding he hopes to get to work with the group of "lucky and brave councillors" who are chosen in the upcoming election.

Lawyer Stuart McCormack worked for a law firm that was a global leader in Canadian business law - his 27-year career was spent, he said, helping businesses do business, giving legal advice and handling complex negotiations for businesses of all sizes.

There are two types of councillors, he said, those who say no, it can't be done, and those who say "it can't be done the way you think it can, but there's another way to get there."

His career was built on solving problems in support of businesses, he said, and he views the role of a councillor as offering that support to all types of businesses in NOTL. 

He suggested creating an economic development officer position for NOTL — co-ordinating with the Regional committee, as is done currently, has not been effective, and there are people in town who are qualified and might volunteer to work with the Town, he said.

Encouraging voters to be informed about candidates, he said, "This is a watershed election for our town. I sincerely hope we get it right for all our sakes. This town deserves to have the best representation on council for the next four years."

Paolo Miele is a business owner, "and all business owners i speak to say 'keep government out of my business.'"

He suggested having the executive of the chamber educate town staff. "They run a municipality, not a business, although they should run it as a business." 

He knows how to run a business, he said, with a staff of almost 30 people who rely on his expertise to keep supplying a pay cheque. "We need to improve the relationship between business leaders and town staff." Councillors who run a business are more valuable to council — business owners know how to deal with the struggles and the accomplishments, he said. Town taxes are $29 million, with a small business owner paying about $40,000 a year. The Town needs to help them with that, not to have government involved and telling them how to run a business.

"I hope to get your vote and help make this town even better."

Andrew Niven is the director of marketing at Konzelmann Estate Winery, and is currently chair of the Ice Wine Festival and the Candlelight Stroll. He sits on the Tourism Partnership Regional Board of Niagara, and on the chamber board, seeing first-hand the central role business plays in a healthy community, he said. Local businesses create jobs, commerce, experiences and the vitality the town needs, but throughout their journey they need coaching, access to mentors and industry experts, capital and funding, and introductions to new clients. If the Town works more closely with the chamber, they can create a system where businesses can draw information, guidance  and support, he said.

"We have some of the brightest minds living in NOTL. Let's get them engaged in the process."  

He would push for increased marketing dollars to promote business, especially in the shoulder season. Council also needs to approve the heritage tax rebate program which will bring more than $1.8 million each year back to the downtown core, he said. 

He will also push for clear and transparent communication, speak up for what's right, shake up the status quo, be true to founding principles, help control development, protect heritage, and strengthen farmers and the wine industry. "No matter where we live in NOTL we cannot solve our challenges unless we solve them together. That's what I stand for." 

Sandra O'Connor says the business sector is an integral part of community, but all sectors are interconnected. Protecting culture and heritage is important to the business  community — if what makes the town special is destroyed, that impacts the economic base, she said. Business needs stability to flourish, which is why the town needs an Official Plan, so business can plan for the future. Business also needs a good public transportation system for the work force and customers, and while progress has been made toward integrated transit to serve riders better, it needs to be taken further, possibly with a single fare box and including under-serviced areas.

O'Connor said she would like to explore more partnership programs between businesses, universities and colleges that promote and reward innovation, new technology and services, particularly in agri-tourism. She would also like to see the Town make better use of grant programs with other levels of government to bring in more businesses, and she also believes in the Town working with business when making decisions. For example, she has heard business owners say they would like to see more festivals on Queen Street. "I think we should listen," she said.

Infrastructure is an issue, and there is a backlog of work on roads, bridges, wate rmains and sanitary sewers, she said, and the Town needs to work with other levels of government on those issues, as well as cutting red tape for businesses.

Bernhard Peters is running for council because he's tired of red tape, of "nothing getting done," and because he wants to have a voice. Being a business owner is not always about making the most money but spending it right, and running a town on a budget is about how well money is spent, not how much money it has, he said. 

People can come up with great business ideas, be ready to go "full steam ahead," but when they get to city hall their plans can come to a full stop. Town staff don't want to put their jobs on the line, and don't want to make decisions, he said. "That has to stop."

As a solution to traffic problems, he suggested bringing a steam engine to town to transport visitors form Glendale to different communities, attracting more tourists and enthusiasts and relieving congestion in town.

Katherine Reid lives in Queenston, has a degree in geography and has worked in the wine industry, most recently as winemaker with Joseph's Estate Wines. As a member and volunteer of the Lions Club, she has been regional chair twice.

She would encourage more agri-tourism for wineries, breweries, distilleries, cideries, businesses which make preserves and honey, greenhouses and farm markets, which require more promotion and be easier to be locate.

The agricultural community has seen many changes this term, but several agricultural maps don't match and need to be corrected, she said.

Her biggest concern is the Town planning department, she said. Designing a new Official Plan needs a good planning department and a few councillors who understand the panning regulations, as she feels she does.

Council needs to not hinder business, said candidate Erwin Wiens, "to not get in the way."

 Businesses are here because NOTL is the prettiest town in Canada, he said, and to find out how to help them, he would ask them what their experience has been, what are the positives and negatives to doing business in NOTL, and what the Town could do to help. 

The Town needs to promote what it does right and eliminate what it does wrong, he said.

Everyone comes to work to do a good job, said Wiens, but town staff need leadership and guidance, they need to be empowered to make good decisions, and they need encouragement.

"Let's find out what we do right, and business will come."

As a business owner and a policeman, he's been involved in municipal leadership, he said.

"Let's not hinder our employees. They are the ones making decisions for businesses.  Hold them accountable in private and praise them in public. That's how to get ahead. We have to be the best because we're the town of NOTL."

"I'm committed and ready to continue to embrace the challenges of a NOTL town councillor," said candidate John Wiens.

He brings a unique blend of business wisdom, local commitment and strong values that would allow him to represent community interests and deal with town issues directly and honestly, he said. 

Born and raised in NOTL, he said he's been a well-known business owner in town for more than 44 years in the hospitality industry, and was raised with values and beliefs that have been the foundation of his success.

He believes in truth and straight talk, talking about issues, not around them, adding his job is to serve people. In his term on council that was his mindset, and will continue to be his mindset, he said.

"I'm hard-wired to be open, receptive and responsible. That is simply who I am."

He's proud of his record as a councillor, and was honoured to have served as deputy lord mayor last term. He's also proud of giving back to the community through the many committees on which he's served. 

The new council will have to build bridges with the business community and residents, and have a more open dialogue with the CAO, directors and their departments, who must welcome discussions, business ideas and questions from business owners. He suggested town staff should prepare and maintain a complete list with current planning information, zoning, bylaws, permitted uses, parking, permits and licensing, as well as contacts with each department.

He would also support spending more time and resources on a made-in-NOTL development plan to attract small prestige industries for designated employment lands.

With skills and wisdom developed as a business owner and the community leadership he's shown, "I'm uniquely prepared to face the challenges of the future," he said.

Jordon Williams' family, dating back to his great-grandfather, has strong business roots in the community, he said, and "as such I know how powerful this town can be as an economic force."

York Road should be used as an economic development zone, he said. "We have a real gem up there, and we have to utilize it."

The Town doesn't need a paid economic development officer, he said — there are accomplished and engaged citizens with business sense who would be "more than willing" to help with York Road and create a dynamic community that will bring good jobs to NOTL.

The Town has to alleviate concerns of traffic back-up in the Glendale area and the Old Town, working with the Region on "real solutions" and to get tourist buses off the streets and in a designated zone, he said.

The airport is an economic development jewel and it must be used as an asset to advocate having home offices locate in NOTL and having business executives enjoy the perks of living in NOTL, he said.  

He would like to work with all business districts in NOTL, listen to them and understand their needs,

and to applause at the last comment of the evening, he would like to provide unlimited free parking for residents in the Old Town.

 
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