A fresh look at Norfolk’s economic direction was on the agenda of CAO Jason Burgess when he accepted the position in February.
This examination has taken on new urgency in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic disruptions it has created locally, in Ontario and around the world.
A potential way forward will come to Norfolk council when Burgess tables a report in June.
Burgess will recommend convening a master panel of half a dozen individuals who will weigh and assess findings and recommendations from a number of subcommittees under the headings of agriculture, real estate and development, tourism, and other key sectors of the Norfolk economy.
The working title of this arrangement is the “Norfolk County Economic Recovery Task Force.”
“It comes from a personal philosophy of partnering with groups and individuals rather than the county trying to run a program,” Burgess said Thursday. “If you put money on the table, the hope is you wind up with a better result.”
Norfolk County signalled a new direction in January during budget deliberations when it cut $210,000 from its tourism and economic development budget. The restructuring included parting company with some senior staff. Striking an economic recovery task force, Burgess said, is a part of this equation.
For the purposes of speed, Burgess would recommend tapping qualified individuals from the community for the master panel while filling the subcommittees with interested parties through an application process.
Burgess doesn’t see the task force displacing the county’s tourism and economic development advisory committee. Rather, he sees this advisory committee complementing the work of the subpanels before recommendations are sent to the master panel for final review.
Burgess stressed that Norfolk council will have final say on how this or any other process is structured moving forward.
As for funding new ideas and projects, Burgess said the $1 million contingency fund council created during its 2019 budget for the promotion of worthwhile ideas is a possibility.
However, he added council will have to take a global view of its finances – especially with an eye to COVID-19 impacts – before committing financially to the task force concept and its objectives.