As we approach the conclusion of another transformative year, it is both an honour and a privilege to extend our heartfelt gratitude to each one of you for your commitment to advancing the prosperity of our region, while honouring our traditions and historical support of one another as neighbouring communities. Together, we have navigated challenges, celebrated successes, and reinforced our shared dedication to creating positive change in our communities.
Here is a review of some of the highlights the region experienced in 2023.
Much of SCOR EDC’s advocacy over the past year was focused on issues related to growth in our region. Increased industrial and residential growth has been positive but with it comes challenges; taking steps to ensure we have adequate housing options, planning for the education of children in our region, collaborating to support and develop educational spaces in our communities and ensuring we have strong infrastructure that serves us today and looks forward to the needs of tomorrow.
The SCOR EDC Board of Directors met with the following Ministries regarding issues specific to this five-county region this year. We met them at ROMA and AMO conferences, at one-on-one meetings and continued staff conversations as well as through our MPPs and MPs. In total this year SCOR EDC had 16 meetings with Ministers of various ministries including: OMAFRA, MTO, Infrastructure, Colleges and Universities, Education, Municipal Affairs and Housing, Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development, Energy, and Economic Development Job Creation and Trade. SCOR EDC hosted meetings with the five MPPs and MPs in our region touching on information important to our future success and addressing challenges that were occurring right now.
Projects and Initiatives:
SCOR EDC created the Southwest Community Transit (SCT) to connect individual municipal transit services so that a resident in one community could travel to another for education, healthcare, recreation or employment. Public transportation is relatively new to rural communities and historically movement between municipalities has been limited. Many municipal transit agencies (but not all!) in the SCT network are funded through the Ontario Community Transportation Pilot Grant Program. This program will end in 2025.
In addition to advocating for continued provincial and federal funding supports, we have been collaborating to find ways to stretch municipal dollars to create a sustainable model where we are not duplicating services but are sharing resources, responding to need and growing incrementally to serve residents and newcomers.
SCOR EDC / SCT undertook a study by Dillion Consulting "Southwest Community Transit Inter-Community Bus Service Plan" to provide opportunities for the best model moving forward in 2023 as did one of our members; Middlesex County. Both independent reports recommended utilizing SCT to centralize the administration of transit while still maintaining local knowledge to create a sustainable model. SCOR EDC has ongoing conversations with MTO and the federal government to find support for this vision. View annual report here.
Did you know that shortline rail supports over 600 jobs directly and indirectly across the five-county region? It is a critical piece of infrastructure supporting the manufacturing and agricultural sector. IGCP in Aylmer "uses over 43 million bushels of corn annually, and represents over ⅓ of Southern Ontario’s ethanol production – and that corn is grown locally".
In addition, shortline rail supports the automotive sector across our region and provides an option for strong supply chain development.
The region is seeing a significant increase in investment inquiries, and many of those are seeking rail access. SCOR EDC has identified the importance of rail infrastructure across the region and has started by prioritizing the short line freight rail (Cayuga Subdivision) that runs from St Thomas in Elgin County, through Tillsonburg and Oxford County and on into Norfolk County. This rail line does and will continue to support strong supply chain development in manufacturing and agricultural sectors.
Workforce Training and Mobility
To support employment opportunities for residents across the region SCOR EDC has partnered with post-secondary institutions to develop training that is required by employers right now AND that will be needed in the future. To date, our efforts have focused on agricultural training and training for the trades. Some of the work has been in advocating for policy and programming support for employers, trainers and directly to job seekers. We have collaborated with and supported Fanshawe College, Conestoga College, Six Nations Polytechnic, Western University and our workforce planning boards in connecting people to jobs and training.
In addition to the training, we have also partnered with Elgin Middlesex Oxford Workforce Planning and Development Board and Workforce Planning Board of Grand Erie to ensure tools for job seekers and employers are easily accessible. An example of this is ensuring transit routes are uploaded on job seeker websites.
In 2024 we will be undertaking a region-wide training inventory which will identify gaps, help us respond to training needs and connect newcomers and women to those important services.
Challenges in obtaining affordable housing have been front and centre over the past two years. In response, municipalities have adapted bylaws and policies, worked towards engaging with private developers and been innovative in looking for solutions for this complex issue. To provide municipal partners and developers with tools to assess, review and innovate SCOR EDC has partnered with Rural Ontario Institute (ROI) to roll out ROI’s Rural Housing Information System (RHIS) across our region. This tool seeks to consolidate information and also provides a comparative function for users.
The importance of the agricultural sector across our region cannot be overstated. This region has a strong history of agricultural production. The crops have changed, and farming practices and equipment have evolved but agriculture has in many ways insulted the region from wide economic swings that might have otherwise had a very negative impact on our region and economy.
Did you know that the farmers in Ontario grow over 200 commodities on 49,600 farms? In our region alone we have over 1.5 million acres of crops. Farms in this region produce over 94% of Ontario ginseng, 85% of asparagus and 78% of cucumber.
SCOR EDC continues to work closely with other organizations such as OFA to support the sector across our region. We have a great relationship with OMAFRA and a continued open dialogue with staff and the Minister.