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The Niagara Business Leadership Luncheon

Building Niagara a “Culture of Innovation” by Cutting Red Tape:
The Locals’ Spin on Duguid’s Address

The Minister of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure, Brad Duguid was the keynote speaker at the Niagara Business Leaders Luncheon at White Oaks Resort, on March 29th.  He was followed by Corinna Carson, Interim Executive Director of the Niagara Workforce Planning Board (NWPB), who presented awards for the Niagara Immigrant Connections Initiative (NICI) to honour several participants of their program that connects recent immigrants with mentors in Niagara, and assists them in finding meaningful employment.  The event was also in partnership with Niagara College and Brock University.

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I love a VIP luncheon; you know, free sandwiches and cakes and a chance to get out of the house and meet new and interesting people.  This was my first time sitting at the Media table though, and I have to tell you, I was feeling pretty smug.  I was hobnobing with the big wigs and rubbing shoulders with the press. Don Fraser from The Standard made me feel right at home, as did all the wonderful folks from The Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce.  A big thank  you Hugo and Ryan for the invite.

So, you’re probably wondering, why was TNL there? For starters, I am a Niagara lover, born and raised.  I have a vested interest in all Niagara businesses doing well. And so should you.  When business is booming, more people are having lunch. Plain and simple.  When things are going well economically, all of us get to eat better because there is a greater selection of gourmet food operations out there, and that makes all the foodies happy.

All of Niagara’s entrepreneurs deserve a huge round of applause, especially the culinary entrepreneurs.  They are the courageous warriors of freedom, leading Niagara’s food scene to brave new heights.  Okay, so I’m getting a little carried away.  Seriously though, it takes major cahonez to start up your own business and make it succeed.  These people work tirelessly, sometimes forfeiting their own pay to keep their culinary delights on offer for all of us to enjoy. If it weren’t for these valiant, brave people we wouldn’t have The Smokin’ Buddha, Tide & Vine, El gastro, Della Terra Ltd., and on and on.  Actually, without them, TNL wouldn’t be here either. Independent, local businesses are our culture. We need to celebrate them and help them carry on!  And from what Duguid was saying, this government is going to help them do just that.

The moment Duguid started talking you know why he became a politician, clearly the man was born for persuasive public speaking. His rousing introduction applauded Niagara’s recent achievements, (GOTrain service, The Goodman School of Business). Although Niagara was “hit hard with the loss of the manufacturing sector, the people of Niagara are resourceful and resilient, with top quality innovative entrepreneurs and skilled grads from Brock and NC”. He revelled in our amazing tourism and hospitality sector; our food, our wine, our beer!  Whoop Whoop!

After explaining the budget spending; infrastructure, foreign investment, research and development tax incentives, grants for low income students to attend post-secondary, saying: “talent is our most important resource and money should never be a barrier to brilliance” (he had some great one-liners). He went on to talk about the growth of small to medium sized businesses into larger ones.

Duguid’s address mentioned $400 million will go towards the Business Growth Initiative, with $20 million devoted to help small businesses hook up with post-secondary institutions for research.  The businesses have been heard, and red tape is the biggest burden holding them back from growing.  So, the Ontario government has created a ‘burden reduction project’, lifting some 85 000 regulatory requirements already, and initiating 12 round tables with the aim to make it easier to do business.  Duguid unveiled an online platform ‘The Red Tape Challenge’ where everyone will have access to share their ideas of what is holding businesses back.  Six sectors of the economy will be addressed, but the window is a short one, with only about one month between launch to close for each.

Innovation, research and “becoming the disruptors”, whatever that meant, were themes that rang throughout his speech. “Change is happening at a dizzying pace.  We must keep up”. He closed with a quote from the great John F.Kennedy, “Change is the law of life and those who look only to the past will miss out on the future”.

Great questions by Walter Sendzick, CEO of the GNCC about the South Coast motor speedway being halted by bureaucracy, and the representative of constellation brands, who asked what initiatives are available for Niagara’s tourism businesses right now that they can tap into. As with any political speech, we will await for the real answers to those question in time, I suppose.

To finish the day’s events, Corrina Carson  of the NWPB gave out the awards for NICI (Congrats Vineland Research and Innovation Centre) and spoke about the staffing and wage subsidy programs through Employment Ontario for small and medium sized businesses that are available. The YMCA Employment and Newcomer Centre, on Bunting Rd. in St. Catharines, is a great resource where you can learn more about these programs.  You can tell them Vanessa sent you.

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